Need rating: Sixth
Current personnel (with more analysis): Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise Jr., Adrian Clayborn, Derek Rivers, Eric Lee, Harvey Langi, Geneo Grissom, Keionta Davis, Dont'a Hightower (more off the line), Kyle Van Noy (more off the line).
What's missing? A player that the opposition has to consider giving extra attention to in the form of double-teams on a consistent basis because he can win one-on-one matchups without relying on scheme. Derek Rivers, the team’s top pick in 2017 (third round, No. 83), could develop into that after missing his rookie season with a torn ACL.
Key stat: After the Kony Ealy trade in the offseason didn’t pan out and Rob Ninkovich retired, the Patriots had 11 different players play regular-season snaps at the position: Flowers, Wise, Lee, James Harrison, Grissom, Trevor Reilly, Jonathan Freeny, Harvey Langi, Marquis Flowers, Hightower and Van Noy.
My take: In the 2016 season, when the Patriots won Super Bowl LI, they had a strong four-man rotation at the position with Chris Long, Jabaal Sheard, Trey Flowers and Ninkovich, but last year they struggled to duplicate that and it led to a revolving door at the position. Ideally, a prospect at this position would be tall (6-foot-5), have some sturdiness (255-plus pounds), be able to run well (4.65 in the 40) and have diverse pass-rush moves. That’s a rare combination, as players come in all different packages. For example, a dynamic pass-rusher like Melvin Ingram might not have registered as highly on the Patriots’ board in the 2012 draft because he’s 6-foot-2, but he makes up for that in other ways and is one of the NFL’s most explosive pass-rushers. So there’s always a push-pull between marrying up the physical traits to other assets of a player’s skill set. The Patriots are in sub packages anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of the defensive snaps, and with leading sacker Flowers entering the final year of his contract, fortifying this spot further wouldn’t be a surprise.