Football.com - everything football

Defensive Line Leads List Of Priorities For Patriots

By



Aaron Donald out of the University of Pittsburgh has the potential to fit in with the New England Patriots' defense, but his size may force the team to look at another player. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images.
Aaron Donald out of the University of Pittsburgh has the potential to fit in with the New England Patriots' defense, but his size may force the team to look at another player. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images.

The additions of cornerback Darrelle Revis and wide receiver Brandon LaFell by the New England Patriots dramatically changed their draft outlook. New England can show confidence in their cornerbacks and receivers and allow them to focus on other areas of concern.

The Patriots’ first pick is the 29th overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, unless they decide to trade their pick. When considering recent drafts, it would not be a surprise to see them move around the draft board.

One position that is needed on Bill Belichick’s team is defensive tackle. It does not look like veteran Vince Wilfork wants to stay in Foxboro and they should prepare now to replace the massive presence he provides in the middle. Additionally, due to the Aaron Hernandez situation and the uncertainty of Rob Gronkowski’s health, it would make sense for the Patriots to take a tight end early in the draft.

The options at defensive tackle start with Aaron Donald. The 6-foot-1, 285-pound senior out of Pittsburgh might be undersized for the position, but he has exceptional explosiveness and technique. These qualities make him able to push back offensive lineman. In 2013, against the competition of the Atlantic Coastal Conference (ACC), Donald had 28.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks. In four seasons, he cumulated 29.5 sacks and 66 tackles for loss. Donald seems to be too small to be a nose tackle in a 3-4 system, as he does not possess the size of Wilfork. With his raw talent, Donald could excel if surrounded by the right talent.

The University of Notre Dame has two defensive lineman that would make sense for New England. Louis Nix, a 6-foot-2, 331-pound defensive tackle, recorded 27 tackles but had no sacks in 2013 because he only played in eight games due to a torn meniscus. But when he played 13 games in 2012, Nix had 50 tackles and 2 sacks on a dominating Fightin’ Irish defense that carried the team to the National Championship. Nix could be a perfect replacement for Wilfork, as he commands a double team on almost every play. He could be a nose tackle in a 3-4 system. If the defensive tackle monitors his weight and keeps up his intensity, he has the potential of being a great run stuffer.

Another member of the Notre Dame defense that could be drafted by the Pats is Stephon Tuitt. The 6-foot-5, 304-pound defensive end recorded 49 tackles and 7.5 sacks in his last season in South Bend. He totaled 21.5 sacks in three seasons with the Irish. Tuitt has excellent pass rush moves for a player of his size and has good coordination. His great size allows him to be versatile and play defensive tackle in certain situations. His tendency to disrupt passing lanes looks a lot like ex-Irish Justin Tuck. 

However, in many mock drafts, Ra'shede Hageman out of Minnesota is projected to be drafted by New England. The 6-foot-6, 310-pound prospect finished his career with 91 tackles and 10 sacks in four seasons with the Golden Gophers. Hageman has tremendous explosiveness and great pass rushing moves. Despite his large frame, he still ran a 5-second 40-yard dash and had a broad jump of 114 inches. However, Hageman is still raw. His knowledge of blocking schemes is low and he has a tendency of playing too high. Hageman seems like a hit or miss, but under the coaching of Belichick, there are more chances that he will be a hit in the NFL.

The other option for the Pats to draft is a tight end, and Eric Ebron, out of the University of North Carolina would be a nice pickup. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound junior set the ACC single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end last season with 973 yards. Ebron is a threat at every level due to his great athleticism and his excellent body control. He is mostly a receiver, but he could improve his blocking skills. However, in a Patriots’ offense that relies on Tom Brady’s arm, this weakness could easily be overlooked.

Jace Amaro could be another option at the tight end spot. The junior out of Texas Tech set the record for most receiving yards in a single season by a tight end with 1,352 yards last season. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound Amaro is an excellent route-runner for his size. His statistics were inflated because of the pass happy offense he played in. Also, it is worth noting that he only had one productive season while he was in college. He lacks the strength to match up with defensive ends in the NFL and was mostly used as a slot receiver in Texas Tech’s four or five receiver sets.

The Patriots could go one of two ways in this year’s draft. They could go for a defensive tackle since NFL teams can never have enough defensive linemen or give Brady another weapon. However, fans and “draft experts” will continue to guess which players the Patriots will draft, but if there is one unpredictable team on draft day, it is the New England Patriots.