Before the NFL Scouting Combine kicks off later this month, marking the unofficial start of the NFL offseason, we’re taking a position-by-position look at the New England Patriots’ roster. We’ll examine which players stood out in 2018, which ones have some work to do this offseason and which ones could be leaving town.
Next up: the defensive line.
DE Deatrich Wise
DE Adrian Clayborn
DE Derek Rivers
DE Keionta Davis
DT Lawrence Guy
DT Adam Butler
DE Ufomba Kamalu
DE Trent Harris
DT Frank Herron
DT David Parry
IMPENDING FREE AGENTS
DE Trey Flowers
DE John Simon
DT Malcom Brown
DT Danny Shelton
If All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore wasn’t the MVP of the Patriots’ defense, it was Flowers, who led the team in sacks, quarterback hits and tackles for loss for the third consecutive season. One of the NFL’s most well-rounded edge defenders, Flowers is equally effective as a pass rusher and run defender and can line up practically anywhere along the defensive line.
How important was Flowers to the Patriots’ success? Two of their worst defensive performances of the season (Week 2 at Jacksonville and Week 3 at Detroit) came while he was sidelined with a concussion.
Guy, Butler and Simon also impressed this season in their respective roles
Shelton and Clayborn were two of the Patriots’ higher-profile offseason additions, and both were benched for multiple games late in the season. Finding reliable edge rushers behind Flowers again was an issue for New England, as Wise failed to take a significant step forward in his second season and Rivers and Davis both sat out the majority of the year as healthy scratches.
Clayborn had his moments, but New England’s most effective pass rushers outside of Flowers were linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower.
Neither Shelton nor Brown impressed after the Patriots declined to pick up their fifth-year contract options before the season, though both wound up playing very well in Super Bowl LIII.
TOP OFFSEASON STORYLINES
1. Will Flowers be back? Given the Patriots’ struggles to find consistent pass rushers in recent years, retaining their 25-year-old star should be their No. 1 priority this offseason. Flowers will be one of the top edge defenders available in free agency, so he’s surely in line for a massive pay raise as he hits the open market for the first time.
There’s one factor working in New England’s favor, however: Though his talents are highly regarded in NFL circles, Flowers never has posted gaudy sack numbers — he was tied for 34th in the league this season with a career-high 7 1/2 takedowns — which might make the new contract he eventually signs a tad more affordable.
On the surface, Flowers seems more likely to re-sign than the Patriots’ other marquee free agent, left tackle Trent Brown, who appears poised to cash in elsewhere after a very strong first season in New England.
2. Will Clayborn be cut? The Patriots can save nearly $4 million in salary cap space by parting ways with the 30-year-old, who was a healthy scratch for the final two games of the regular season.
3. What will the interior D-line look like? Guy will be back after earning the 10th-highest Pro Football Focus grade among interior defenders this season, and Butler showed noticeable improvement as a pass-rushing specialist. Brown and Shelton both are set to hit free agency, however, and it would not be surprising to see the Patriots move on from the two 2015 first-round picks.
This could be a position the Patriots address in this year’s draft. If they opt to go D-tackle at No. 32 (as they did with Brown four years ago), one potential target to keep in mind is Clemson’s Christian Wilkins, a Springfield, Mass., native who wrapped up his college career with a dominant performance against Alabama in the national title game.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images