Patriots Mailbag: Why Versatility Is Required Out Of Derek Rivers

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The 2017 NFL Draft has come and gone, and the New England Patriots added over 20 rookies to their squad.

Unsurprisingly, Patriot Nation has many questions about its new players. Let’s dive into this week’s mailbag for the answers.

Doug! Super-excited about the Pats draft and their off-season in general. I know the draft feedback says 1st round pick Derek Rivers is more of a DE/OLB EDGE player, but after watching video of him at the combine, looks like he moves really well. Can he possibly fill Jaime Collins old role as an inside/outside linebacker?
— Steve (Boston)
Steve! Thanks for the email (feel free to send questions to dkyed@nesn.com if you don’t have Twitter).

I assume Rivers mostly will play defensive end with the Patriots because that’s currently a greater need. I do believe, however, he has the skillset to play standup linebacker on early downs and defensive end on third down and obvious passing situations.

Based on measurables, Rivers is actually a better fit for the Patriots at linebacker than he is at defensive end based on his size. He’s not as heavy or long as the Patriots typically like their pass rushers.

I could see Rivers eventually taking on a role similar to the one Rob Ninkovich plays. I think Rivers could play strong-side linebacker, 3-4 outside linebacker and left defensive end, which is where he played in college. I can’t see him playing a Jamie Collins-esque role simply because he doesn’t have the same type of experience in coverage. Collins played safety in high school and college while Rivers primarily has been a pass rusher.

The Patriots use a hybrid defense that can’t quite be categorized as a 3-4 or 4-3. And their defensive ends must be able to rush from the edge and possess the versatility to take on one of the following two roles in pass defense: interior rush or coverage. They all must be able to set the edge in the run game and be able to contain quarterbacks inside the pocket, which is why Bill Belichick typically doesn’t like wasting his time with exclusive sub rushers. I believe Rivers stands a much better chance of dropping into coverage than he does playing inside.

So, short answer: kind of but probably not without a lot of work.

#MailDoug Will we see some 5 receiver sets this year? Be really hard for secondaries to deal with
— @MrQuindazzi
I think we could but not frequently. Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell and Danny Amendola certainly would tax a secondary, but you don’t want to get too predictable without a tight end or running back on the field. It’s certainly possible we see four-receiver sets plus James White or Rex Burkhead in on offense. White or Burkhead could then split outside in an empty-backfield set.

One thing is certain: The Patriots won’t be predictable. They have so many offensive weapons that it’s unlikely we see them use a “base” formation. Opposing defenses constantly will be wondering what the Patriots are about to run because the sample sizes will be too small with every personnel set and formation.

So, the NFL will probably try to ban adding too many offensive weapons after next season.

Which of the #Patriots rookies, do you think makes the biggest impact year 1? #PatriotsNation #NESN
— @BrianCeltics1
Probably Rivers. I definitely think he’ll be an early contributor as a pass rusher. Offensive tackle Antonio Garcia also could be an early contributor if he can beat out Cameron Fleming for the third offensive tackle/heavy tight end role.

What is Malcom browns ceiling at this point? Will he ever play in a pro bowl? It gets swept under that he lost #1 dt to Allan branch
— @funnyhowthings
I think it gets swept under the rug because Branch only played 30 more snaps than Branch during the 2016 season. And Branch was really, really good.

I don’t think Brown will be a Pro Bowler because he’ll never put up the kind of stats to draw that sort of attention. I think his ceiling is to be an above average run defending defensive tackle. I think his best football is in front of him, but I can’t, at this point, see him being a good enough pass rusher to earn three-down duties.

I still think it was a good pick, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting a bigger second-year leap out of Brown. He’s still only 23 years old, though, so perhaps it will come in his third season.

Do you think Grissom will get a look as a TE? Proven he can’t play DE, and belichick said he had the best TE workout he saw in his draft
— @ChefdDds89
Speaking of Patriots 2015 draft picks.

I think it would be worth seeing what Geneo Grissom could do at tight end, but I don’t see it happening this offseason just because the Patriots have more depth at tight end than they do at defensive end. The Patriots’ No. 7 defensive end is undrafted free agent Corey Vereen.

The Patriots didn’t switch Jake Bequette to tight end until his fourth season.

Let’s go rapid fire.

#MailDoug who do you see giving @Patriots the toughest 60 minutes of football next year
— @Kwonboy24
The Las Vegas Raiders of Oakland in Mexico.

Congrats on the baby! What’s Tom Brady getting you for a gift?
— @ThePatsHole
Hopefully a pair of Uggs. Or three pairs of Uggs. Almost certainly nothing.

sup? #maildoug
— @June__NYC
Watching the Celtics get demolished. I’m hoping this looks dated by the time this mailbag is published.

(Doug’s editor’s note: It doesn’t.)

What’s the last thing you bought that you wished you hadn’t? #MailDoug
— @Kid_From_Quincy
Our cat had surgery to remove a shoelace from his stomach. I bought him this so he wouldn’t have to wear a cone (and could look cool and stylish in the process!), and he couldn’t walk in it and just kept falling over. So now I have to ship the stupid thing back to Amazon.

Any chance you can get Belichick to do a Rex Ryan ‘we won the offseason’ impersonation? #MailDoug
— @r_lopes12
Can we talk about the degree of difficulty it took for the Patriots to win the offseason since that pesky Super Bowl inconvenienced them and ate into precious offseason preparation time?

Imagine how much better their offseason would have been if not for that stupid Super Bowl win?

Also, no.

@DougKyed Any chance that my friend a RS Soph. at an fcs college ends up being Brady’s heir? Mobile and accurate like Jimmy G. #MailDoug
— @StephenPorier
R. Kelly once said, “If I can see it, then I can do it. If I just believe it, there’s nothing to it.” So, yeah.

Which of the twin UDFAs has a better shot of making the roster?
— @ZakSalant
Jacob.

The Hollister twins sounds like a disparaging nickname a mean group of high school girls labeled their nemeses behind their backs, by the way.

I also wonder if Jacob and Cody had a suite life in Bend, Ore.

@DougKyed what UDFA do you think will make 53 man roster? Killings, Card and Daniels are all great
— @joshuajturano
Based on guaranteed money and current roster construction, Jacob Hollister and linebacker Harvey Langi. I’m a big fan of both players.

What do you think the pats record will be this season ? #MailDoug
— @MKhan3000
14-2.

If Brady wins another Super Bowl this year does he do the patriots a favour and retires letting JG take over?
— @BrycenTylerPapp
You misspelled “do the rest of the NFL a favor” by retiring.

Also, is this Roger Goodell or Sean McDermott?

Thumbnail photo via Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports Images

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