In under a month, Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio will be facing the board, Berj Najarian will be on the phone, and the New England Patriots will be on the clock at pick 32 overall.
The end of the 2015 NFL draft’s first round won’t be unlike recent years for the Patriots’ war room. The same faces will be taking part within it. But there will be new prospects taking part on the outside. And with defensive tackle a position in question now that Vince Wilfork is a Houston Texan, perhaps one available will get a call from One Patriot Place on April 30.
Much can change between now and then, as can perception of how New England will maneuver through its nine total picks. Though for now, here are five interior defensive linemen to consider should the Patriots stand pat with the first one, with film glimpses courtesy of DraftBreakdown.com.
Malcom Brown, Texas
The 6-foot-2, 319-pound Brown led the Longhorns in tackles for loss and sacks as a junior in 2014, going on to be named a finalist for the Bronco Nagurski Trophy and the Outland Trophy. Also earning first-team All-Big 12 and first-team All-American honors, Brown is projected to be a top-25 selection this spring. But if he is still unclaimed at No. 32, there’s reason to believe he’d fit what the Patriots are looking for.
Without the services of Wilfork, the girth of New England’s defensive line is uncertain when it comes to stopping the run. Brown could help mitigate that. He is not Wilfork, but he is effective at turning his shoulder into creases and following through with his arms. His quickness off the snap, along with his ability to generate power with his hand use more so than his leg drive help him sift through traffic.
Predominantly a three-technique with experience going against centers as well as offensive tackles, Brown carries the athleticism to line up in both 4-3 and 3-4 fronts. That physical flexibility could aid him in finding a spot alongside the likes of Sealver Siliga and Alan Branch in New England. Brown had a formal interview with the Patriots at the NFL Scouting Combine, and later performed at his pro day with defensive coordinator Matt Patricia in attendance.
Eddie Goldman, Florida State
The 6-foot-4, 336-pound Goldman played in 10 games for the Seminoles in 2012, before becoming a starter for 27 through his junior season. He proceeded to collect 35 tackles, eight tackles for loss, four sacks, a batted pass and a forced fumble in 2014, earning first-team All-ACC and third-team All-American recognition in result.
A prototype nose in a three-man front, Goldman’s heavy, bull-rushing hands, fluid movement skills and commitment versus the run have him pegged firmly in the first round. He isn’t a pass-rusher with an array of counters, nor is he the best example of how leverage is established, but his presence in the middle of things created problems for offensive lines. He knocked people over. And consequently, the 21-year-old could have his share of suitors before the Patriots are scheduled to pick.
Even so, New England was well-represented at the Florida State pro day March 31, with both Patricia and defensive line coach Brendan Daly observing one side of the ball. Many Seminoles were worth watching there. But Goldman, for one, has a visit scheduled with the Patriots this month.
Jordan Phillips, Oklahoma
Though Phillips started just 17 games during his tenure with the Sooners, the 6-foot-5, 329-pound defensive lineman filled a need, and space. After redshirting in 2011 and being stifled by back surgery in 2013, Phillips’ Oklahoma career ended strong in 2014, with 13 starts, 39 tackles, seven tackles for loss, two sacks and a batted pass on the way to being named second-team All-Big 12.
But there is reason to believe his statistical output doesn’t tell his full story. As a two-gap nose tackle with wide-reaching 34.5-inch arms, Phillips occupied interior offensive lines while Oklahoma’s second level closed in. And every so often, he took over. He benched blocks, swiveled, and fired downhill to wrap ball-carriers up.
A lack of every-down consistency, pad level and production could keep Phillips waiting through the end of the first round. A mix of size, athleticism and splash plays could keep him from getting out of it, however. Phillips played a high volume of snaps during his final campaign at Oklahoma, and that is important to make note of when assessing why he ran both hot and cold. He carries the athletic qualities, it’s about harnessing them.
Grady Jarrett, Clemson
The 6-foot-1, 304-pound Jarrett is in the mold of an mid-1990s television, and he used that to his advantage over his four seasons, 48 games and 37 starts at Clemson. Strong at the point of attack, with natural leverage and burst to forge by blocks, Jarrett amassed 207 tackles, 29.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 37 pressures, a batted pass and two forced fumbles during his Tigers career.
A team captain and first-team All-ACC selection, Jarrett lacks the ideal bulk to control multiple rush lanes at the NFL level. But what he possesses in terms of short, stout explosiveness gives him an edge when he lines up close to the ball. And while he won’t be a fit for every defense, he does figure to be a fit for a 4-3 defense in search of a one-gap rusher who can spell between the shade and the three-technique.
Jarrett’s size, sudden reaction time and lateral quickness will draw some subtle comparisons to what the Patriots got in Dominique Easley out of Florida last May. Yet Jarrett is different than Easley. And with the way the NFL is headed when it comes to lighter, faster, hybrid rushers, his game is not a redundant one. Belichick and assistant to the coaching staff Michael Lombardi were on hand for his pro day this March.
Carl Davis, Iowa
Davis may leave something to be desired as far as range, pass rush and overall chase go, but he will leave an imprint elsewhere. The 6-foot-5, 320-pound Iowa Hawkeye evidenced that in 2014, conceding little real estate to blockers and barreling through to set the line of scrimmage back. Those are the two sides of the fringe first-rounder’s coin.
Twice named to the second-team All-Big 10 team, Davis started the final 26 contests of his Iowa career. He notched 36 tackles and nine for a loss as a senior, and added two sacks. And where he didn’t showcase the persistence at times, he did showcase diversified moves and raw force out of his three-point stance. He is perhaps best suited as a fresh-legged rotational piece in the NFL, but his experience gathering and discarding double-teams could elevate his role into more.
Coached by Kirk Ferentz, who was on the Cleveland Browns’ staff with Belichick from 1993 through 1995, Davis is the product of a familiar philosophy. And his strength over the center could produce some deliberation on the bridge between the first and second round.