Despite picking two pass rushers in the 2017 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots’ defensive end depth chart still is looking shallow heading into organized team activities.
Let’s break it down.
The Patriots currently have veterans Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich, Kony Ealy and Geneo Grissom and rookies Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise and Corey Vereen on their roster at defensive end. Lawrence Guy — like Ealy — was an offseason addition and could also be thrown into the mix.
The Patriots kept five defensive ends on their roster last season: Flowers, Ninkovich, Grissom, Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard. They rotated Flowers, Ninkovich, Long and Sheard in their two-to-three pass rushing spots while Grissom almost exclusively played on special teams.
Flowers, Ninkovich and Ealy almost certainly will be part of that rotation this season. Guy, despite being a bigger player who projects at defensive tackle in the Patriots’ defense, also could get into the mix, since he can play five-technique defensive end. The Patriots’ defense can’t really be categorized as a 4-3 or 3-4, but they use a five-technique end. Long played that last season despite being undersized. The Patriots didn’t really have a player like Guy, a long but lightweight defensive tackle, last season.
So, all of this is to say Guy could eat into snaps typically designated for pass rushers. But one of the Patriots’ rookies, or Grissom, also likely will see rotational snaps on defense.
Grissom hasn’t been a defensive contributor in two seasons, and he was actually cut out of training camp last season before being signed to then off of the Patriots’ practice squad to finish out the season. So, it’s unlikely to be him.
The most likely candidate to enter that rotation is Rivers, since the Patriots used their top pick in the draft on him. He’s still a project, but he appears to be more ready than Wise. The case against him is he’s still undersized and could see snaps at linebacker.
Wise has the better size (guys), but based on his senior tape, he needs more work than Rivers. If the Patriots are looking to bring a player onto the field on third down to rush the quarterback, Rivers has the better shot to get there.
Vereen, an undrafted free agent who’s not related to Shane or Brock, is undersized at 6-foot-1, 254 pounds, isn’t as good of an athlete as Rivers or Wise and is a long shot for the roster. He could earn a spot on the practice squad.
As far as 53-man roster spots go, the safe bet is to assume Flowers, Ninkovich, Ealy, Rivers and Wise will make the cut. Grissom will really need to impress on special teams. He’s competing for a spot on the roster with players like Brandon Bolden, Jacob Hollister, James O’Shaughnessy, Jonathan Freeny and Harvey Langi more than he is with the defensive ends.
There’s also an outside, outside chance Grissom moves to tight end. But is seems unlikely since the Patriots’ depth at tight end is better, though more wide open, than it is at defensive end.
With only seven defensive ends on the roster, all of the Patriots’ pass rushers will receive plenty of reps in practice and preseason games this spring and summer. Rivers and Wise will need to set themselves apart to prove they deserve defensive snaps to crack that rotation.
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