When the Patriots selected DE Trey Flowers in the fourth round of the 2015 draft, few viewed him as more than a backup. After all, the Pats already had two high-quality defensive ends in Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. But after Jones was shipped to Arizona in the offseason and Ninko began taking reps at linebacker during OTAs, there's a good chance that Flowers will see significant action this upcoming season.

At first glance, Flowers is small for a D-end. Weighing in at only 266 lbs at the combine certainly didn't help his NFL draft stock. What did was a 4.93 second 40 yard dash, 7.26 3-cone drill, and 36 1/2 inch vertical jump -- all outstanding numbers for a prospective defensive lineman. However, teams didn't place much stock in his speed-rushing capabilities. Often projected as a third-rounder in the days leading up to the draft, he ended up on the board at the start of the fourth, where the Patriots took a chance and grabbed him. Now they're glad that they did.

After New England grabbed him with the 101st pick, Flowers impressed throughout training camp and the preseason with his athleticism and power. Against the Giants, he recorded three QB hits and three hurries, sacked Aaron Rodgers against the Packers, and racked up four tackles versus the Panthers. While he's only 6'2", he uses his long arms (34 1/4 in) to toss aside blockers, and he's got outstanding acceleration, allowing him to chase down QBs all across the field. Surprisingly enough, Flowers showcased his powerful side, often going over and through offensive linemen instead of around them. If he can continue excelling at pass-rushing in multiple ways, the sky's the limit. Unfortunately, he suffered an undisclosed injury against Green Bay, and while he played through it, he couldn't avoid the injury bug in the end, as he finished the season on the IR.

While his rookie year wasn't exactly glamorous, Flowers was widely regarded as a steal in NFL circles when the Pats snagged him. At Arkansas, he snagged 68 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, and 6 sacks, to go with one forced (and recovered) fumble and a staggering six passes defensed, all in 13 games. Throughout his college career, he proved to be both an able run-stuffer and adept pass rusher, something the Patriots desperately need. While they accumulated 49 sacks last year, Chandler Jones had 25% of them. With such a big void at DE, there's both space and opportunity for Flowers to step up and earn a starting role along a new-look defensive line.

This year, Flowers has everything ready to go. He's healthy, he's got an opportunity to seize a starting job, and he's more familiar with the playbook than he was last year. If he follows up his eye-opening training camp from last year with a similar encore, there's no telling how high his star could rise. At this point, Flowers is practically a roster lock, and has among the highest upside of any second-year defender in the league. With all the pieces in place, 2016 could be a breakout year for the up-and-coming D-end.

Photo courtesy Patriots.com

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Aidan Stenson 7/21/2016 09:57:00 AM Edit

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