Leading up to the 2020 NFL Draft, we’ll find fits at every position and in every round for the New England Patriots. Next, we’ll take a deep dive on edge defenders.
The New England Patriots have versatile shoes to fill along their defensive front seven.
The Patriots lost linebackers Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts in free agency. And they never truly replaced Trey Flowers after he left for the Detroit Lions last offseason.
Though Van Noy and Collins both are listed as linebackers, they also contributed as edge rushers last season. Van Noy played the majority of his snaps on the line of scrimmage while Collins split his time between the edge and off-the-ball linebacker.
The Patriots intended to replace Flowers with Michael Bennett last offseason, but that experiment went haywire, and the veteran defensive end was traded at midseason. The Patriots are left with Shilique Calhoun, Brandon Copeland, Keionta Davis, Derek Rivers, John Simon, Chase Winovich and Deatrich Wise on the edge. LInebacker Dont’a Hightower also can contribute as an outside rusher.
If the season started today — it doesn’t — Simon and Winovich would likely be the Patriots’ starting edge defenders. The Patriots could get by with that combination, but they still should look for potential starters and depth options in the draft. Defensive end and outside linebacker are two of the Patriots’ biggest needs.
To identify some potential prospects, let’s first look at the Patriots’ history of drafting edge defenders and how their measurables stack up against the league average.
The Patriots seemingly value the three-cone and short shuttle with their average drafted edge defender being slightly lighter but more athletic than the NFL average.
Next, let’s look at the edge defenders invited to the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine and how their measurables stack up next to the Patriots’ averages.
Here’s how the Patriots could fill their edge need in each round of the 2020 NFL Draft:
FIRST ROUND: Zack Baun, Wisconsin
He’s undersized at 6-foot-2, 238 pounds, but if the Patriots are looking for a Kyle Van Noy or Jamie Collins replacement, then Baun is their guy.
Baun was super productive as a senior, collecting 12.5 sacks, 19.5 tackles for loss, 75 tackles, an interception, two pass breakups and two forced fumbles with the Badgers. He also produced 12 quarterback hits and 27 hurries, per Pro Football Focus. He’s also athletic enough to play off the ball and drop into coverage like Van Noy and Collins were asked to do.
If the Patriots are looking for more of a traditional edge defender, then Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos could be a first-round fit at 6-foot-5, 266 pounds.
SECOND ROUND: Terrell Lewis, Alabama
Lewis dealt with arm and knee injuries during his college career at Alabama, but he broke out in a big way in 2019. He ranked 10th among edge defenders in PFF’s pass-rush productivity metric with six sacks, seven QB hits and 35 hurries in 277 snaps.
He has ideal size at 6-foot-5, 262 pounds but he also possesses the athleticism to drop into coverage.
Boise State’s Curtis Weaver, Notre Dame’s Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem and Florida’s Jonathan Greenard also are attractive second-round options.
THIRD ROUND: Jabari Zuniga, Florida
Zuniga’s 2019 season was almost entirely zapped by injuries. He had three sacks and 19 total pressures in just five games. He’s a strong run defender, and his athleticism gives him plenty of upside.
We also like Charlotte’s Alex Highsmith in the third round.
FOURTH ROUND: Alton Robinson, Syracuse
Robinson is one of the better Patriots fits based on measurables. He’s a powerful edge defender who had 48 total hurries on 348 pass-rush snaps last season, per PFF.
We’ll probably include him in our linebacker preview, but we also like Minnesota’s Carter Coughlin around this spot. He’s an edge defender in the mold of Baun or Van Noy. Ultimately, given his size and lack of length, he might need to move to off-the-ball linebacker in the NFL.
FIFTH ROUND: Trevis Gipson, Tulsa
Gipson had 41 total pressures in 281 pass-rush snaps, per PFF. His three-cone drill was extremely slow, but he tested well in the 40-yard dash, short shuttle and jumps.
He’d be a bit of a project, but he has potential as an outside and inside pass rusher.
Miami’s Jonathan Garvin is another option in the fifth round.
SIXTH ROUND: D.J. Wonnum, South Carolina
Wonnum has tremendous length at 6-foot-4 with 34-inch arms, but he didn’t produce enough at South Carolina, only managing 23 pressures on 329 pass-rush snaps, per PFF. He was a three-time captain with the Gamecocks, and there’s enough to work with to make him a late-round flier.
We also like North Dakota State’s Derrek Tuszka here, so his lack of length is concerning.
SEVENTH ROUND: Casey Toohill, Stanford
Toohill is the best edge fit in the draft based on measurables. He’s a bit of a tweener who could play outside linebacker or off-the-ball in the NFL. He collected 38 pressures on 399 pass-rush snaps. He’s only an average run defender.