Positional Overview: For me personally, the reduction of all outside defenders to the one designation of “Edge” is the best simplification since they made it not worth my while to itemize tax deductions. And it makes sense. The old lines between 4-3 End, OLB and 3-4 “Rush LB” have been blurred beyond all recognition by the spread offense and the base nickel defense as to make it all pretty much moot. And for the Patriots in particular, the lines have always been blurry as a French waterlilies painting anyway by virtue of the fact they don’t have “rush” anything. Or “outside” anything. They want multidimensional guys who can line up inside or out, standing up or with a hand in the recycled rubber pellets, rush, set the edge and drop into coverage. Specialists of any kind need not apply.
As far as the team requirements, I’ve always said that for this position the rule is 6-4/4-6. Meaning they want guys 6-foot-4 or taller, 4.6 or faster. With rare exceptions like Rob Ninkovich and the emergency fill in that was James Harrison. But as I see how many 6-2, 6-3 guys they have on the roster now, I think in recent years they’ve scaled back their Height Privilege somewhat. And to me this would be an area of need even if Trey Flowers had stuck around. Because it always is. The Pats have taken 17 DE/OLBs in Belichick’s 19 drafts in New England. They’ve taken at least one in each of their last nine drafts, the only exception being the offense-heavy draft of 2011. They addressed this position with two of the just four picks they had in 2017. And before you know it, those guys will be making Trey Flowers-like money. So the time to draft the replacements for the replacements is now.
So as I look at this position in this year’s group, understand that Edge is in the eye of the beholder. Different guys are categorized as different things in different places. And I’ll be focusing strictly on the ones listed as Edge on most sites. So if you don’t see a prospect here, it’s don’t assume it’s a reflection of how good he is or whether they Pats would take him. Just assume it’s because he’s mainly being included with the interior linemen.
Current roster: Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise, Jr., Derek Rivers, John Simon, Keionta Davis, Ufomba Kamalu, Trent Harris
The Consensus No. 1:
Nick Bosa, Ohio St. 6′ 4″, 244 lbs, 4.79 40-time
Now, after having laid down the law, I break it. My dojo, my rules. No less an authority than NFL.com lists Bosa as a traditional DE. But to the hell with it. He can line up anywhere in any system and be an instant plug & play asset. He at the top of most draft boards as the best overall prospect, though by all indications Arizona is going to go QB and let him slide to San Francisco, the Jets, or whichever team produces enough draft coupons to move up and get him. Ordinarily a guy who missed the end of his college career with a core muscle injury would probably drop a few spots, but given he had 29 bench reps at the Combine, he won’t. Before he went down, the 2017 Big 10 Defensive Lineman of the Year was leading the Buckeyes with 14 tackles, six for loss, four sacks and two fumble recoveries. He was virtually unblockable by anyone Oregon threw in his path. He’s got power. He gets off the line fast. And already has an arsenal of ninja moves that will only grow with experience. I’m going to skip the obvious comparisons to his brother Joey and just say Mrs. Bosa must’ve had no shot at keeping the two of them away from the cabinet with the cookies.
Compares to the other leading brand: Cameron Wake
Other more Probable Than Not 1st Rounders:
Josh Allen, Kentucky. 6-5, 262, 4.63
Allen is more athletic than a physical punisher type. But if you use the word “finesse,” you do so at your peril. Because we’re talking about a guy who posted these numbers in the SEC in 2018: 88 tackles, 21.5 for loss, 17 sacks, five forced fumbles and four batted balls. So say “finesse” again. I dare you. I double dare you, mofo. He’s the best pure pass rusher in this draft, but he’s not limited to just pinning his ears back and getting up field. He’s got the core strength to fight off lead blocks and pulling guards. The loose hips to cover the flats. The frame that Edge defenders of the future will be genetically engineered to have and an 80-inch wingspan.. Plus he’s got a reputation of being a natural leader. In a lot of other years he could be the consensus top pick overall.
Compares to the other leading brand: Anthony Barr
Montez Sweat, Mississippi St. 6-6, 260, 4.41
There’s no better place to start than Sweat’s obviously ridiculous, metahuman combination of size and speed. That 4.41 time in Indy was not only the best at his position, it was the best ever at the position in the history of the NFL Draft Prospects Company Picnic. He also possesses massive 1st baseman’s mitt hands and a wingspan that is somewhere between Josh Allen’s and a C-130. If he’s got some red flags it’s that in terms of career paths, he circumnavigated the globe to get to Mississippi St. He started out as a tight end prospect at Michigan St., got suspended for reasons that have never been made public, went to a juco and converted to defense. So understandably, he’s still a bit of a project. But a project with all the building materials you need to DYI a Pro Bowl OLB. He could use some work understanding passing lanes, but has a violent, sudden first punch and has shown time and again he can eat up a ballcarrier trying to turn the corner on him while still engaging with a blocker. And he really stood out at the Senior Bowl, particularly in the 1-on-1 pass rushing drills. Which probably comes as no surprise to Auburn after his three sack game against them late in the year. He might need a year or so to develop, but whichever team takes him would be well advised to keep the C+C Music Factory video cued up at all times.
Compares to the other leading brand: Aldon Smith
The Best Among the Rest:
Brian Burns, Florida St. 6-5, 249, 4.53
Here’s another size/speed athletic freak. Burns posted the third best 40 and sixth best 3-Cone among Edge prospects at the Lucas Oil Olympics. As the NFL continues to evolve into one big episode of “Million Dollar Mile,” (ie, “Lebron James Presents Running Man With No Violence or Entertainment Value of Any Kind”) Burns could be arriving in the league at exactly the right moment in history. Meaning what he lacks in power and strength, he makes up for in speed and suddenness. He was a five-star recruit out of Florida high school football who came to FSU and posted 9.5 sacks as a freshman, something no Seminole had done since the year “Star Wars” came out. He’s got an NBA small forward’s body with lateral quickness. Still, he will need to hit the gym and get point-of-attack stronger. But he’s still a clear 2nd round projection.
Compares to the other leading brand: Leonard Floyd
Some Probable Day 2 Prospects the Patriots Have Met With:
Jaylon Ferguson, Louisiana Tech. 6-5, 271, 4.72 (unofficial)
The Patriots met with Ferguson at his Pro Day. They might have talked to him at the Combine, but he got disinvited thanks to a fight he had as a freshman. Also, Mr. Strickland wants it to be known that fight is going on his permanent record. The scouts are reportedly divided on Ferguson, other than agreeing he grades out as a 2nd- or 3rd round prospect. They either love his size combination of size and balance, as well as his 64 tackles with 26 tackles for a loss, 17.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and four passes broken up, or they hate the way he seemed to disappear at the Senior Bowl, unable to free himself once he’d a tackle latched onto him. They either love that he’s leaving school with the all time FBS sack record (45) or they hate the way he’ll get misdirected or dives inside going after the sack and loses contain. With a scheme so reliant on guys being where the coaches expect them to be and less on top level athleticism (rolls his eyes in Chandler Jones’ direction), the question is whether the Pats feel they can coach this kid out of freelancing and make use of all that production.
Compares to the other leading brand: Marcus Davenport
Ben Banogu, TCU. 6-3, 250, 4.62
Here’s another Pro Day meeting the Patriots used. The Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year drew extra blockers most of the season and still managed to produce 18 TFL and 8.5 sacks. He helped himself at Indy with good speed, a 1.52 10-yard split and a 3-cone just microseconds over 7. The conventional wisdom on him is that he lacks the sand-in-the-pants to hold up against blocks and will get pushed around. But if you put him in space and let him use his agility and change of direction he can be a productive role player at the next level.
Compares to the other leading brand: Mario Addison
Jalen Jelks, Oregon. 6-5, 256, 4.92
The Patriots met with Jelks at the Senior Bowl, where he performed decently, if not spectacularly. He’s long and rangy and could stand to put some more bulk on his frame. But last year the Ducks used him primarily as an interior lineman, where he often got overmatched but impressed scouts with his fight and tenacity. Lined up on the inside he developed a knack for making himself skinny to shoot gaps and rush low to get below blocks. On the outside, he’s got a tool box full of hand-fighting moves he learned inside, and the reach to disrupt passing lanes. But in order to make it in the pros, he’s going to need to take his Flintstones Chewables and quit skipping Leg Day.
Compares to the other leading brand: George Selvie
Some Red Flags:
Chase Winovich, Michigan. 6-3. 256, 4.59
What I say? One man’s passionate, high-octane, nitro-powered funny car of football energy is another man’s self-promoting douchebag. It’s a matter of what kind of player you want to hand your coaching staff. As pleasant a surprise as his speed was at the Combine, some scouts who interviewed him were turned off and thought he was a little too high on himself and his celebrity. Not many of the draft pundits are in agreement, either. I’ve seem him ranked as high as the ninth best prospect at his position and as low as 26th. Wherever he ends up he’ll be a folk hero for as long as his somewhat limited athleticism will keep him around. I’d just hold off on buying your kid his jersey for a year or two. If you can rent one somewhere, that’d be the smart play.
Compares to the other leading brand: Markus Golden
More Red Flags Than the Country Club of Beijing:
Jachai Polite, Florida. 6-3, 258, 4.54
Polite did himself no favors at the Combine. His interviews couldn’t have gone worse if he went full Joe Biden and started sniffing the personnel guys’ hair. He either got injured running the 40 or took one look at his time and did the Al Czervik “Ow! My arm! It’s broken!” thing. People on the Gators staff vouch for his character and say teammates like him. But he’s been benched before and by all accounts treated his coaches like fried garbage in his sophomore year, once it was obvious they were getting fired. Which is ironic, given his name. His weight has gone up and down, which could be because his coaches wanted him to do different things or like you, he’s also been stress-eating waiting for “Game of Thrones” to start. At his best, he’s got an explosive initial move. And when blocked, a variety of counter moves to free himself and stay in pursuit, including the best spin since I was tearing up the dance floor at that wedding last fall. He’ll go in the 2nd to a team willing to take a risk, because his upside is worth the gamble.
Compares to the other leading brand: Robert Mathis
A Small School Sleeper:
Oshane Ximines, Old Dominion. 6-3, 253, 4.78
The only game Ximines (who I think might share a name with the Scientology god who brought spirits to Earth in DC-8s and dropped them into volcanos, but don’t quote me on that because it’s a legitimate religion and they deserve their tax-exempt status) hasn’t started for the Monarchs in the last three seasons was when he stepped aside as a junior to let a teammate start on Senior Day. Which is sort of sweet. He’s fundamentally sound enough that he could probably be plugged in as a situational pass rusher in Week 1, though he needs to develop when it comes to stopping the run. He’s been used exclusively in a 4-man “even” front in a 3-point stance and was never asked to drop into coverage. He dropped 10 pounds before the Senior Bowl and it showed, as he lost some of the strength that made him such a force at Old Dominion. Still, he projects as a potential 2nd rounder for a team that sees him as a system fit.
Compares to the other leading brand: Trey Hendrickson
The Perfect Patriot: Josh Allen. It’s hard to find a guy who checks off more items on the Bill Belichick DE/OLB punch list in terms of size, speed, the competition he faced, production and intangibles. But unfortunately you have to not win the Super Bowl to ever get a shot at a prospect like him. So you shop in the Filene’s Basement (kids, that was a place that had crazy sale prices and if you were a socially awkward, loner creep with time on your hands you could hang out on certain days and watch women try on dresses right in the aisle. It was a simpler time) of Edge players and pick up what Day 2 bargains you can find.
Whom Patriots will draft: Ben Banogu. There’s so much to like about Jalen Jelks but I think his straight-line speed is a disqualifier. Banogu is less limited, can be used situationally right away as part of their front rotation while he mostly sits and develops behind Bennett, Simon, Wise and Rivers. Ben Banogu. Book it.