New England Patriots Back to Work on Defense in 2015 NFL Draft


Oct 4, 2014; Fort Worth, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners linebacker Geneo Grissom (85) in action against the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots made their intentions clear on day two of the 2015 NFL Draft as all three picks made were on the defensive side of the ball. While New England has needs on the offensive side of the ball at guard the team has plenty of picks on day three to address that position. With their first three picks the Patriots addressed the gaping hole at defensive tackle, added a pass rushing presence at defensive end/outside linebacker, and brought in a safety to add to their thin secondary.


Sep 27, 2014; Lawrence, KS, USA; Texas Longhorns defensive tackle Malcom Brown (90) between plays against the Kansas Jayhawks in the second half at Memorial Stadium. Texas won the game 23-0. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots committed their three picks in the top 100 players drafted to getting athletic and fast on defense–a trend that has been taking place since the 2009 defense sputtered and stalled out. Gone is the two-gapping, oversized defensive ends and nose tackle of the 3-4 and in their place is a 5-2-4 and 4-2-5 scheme in place almost 90% of the snaps. New England is making a clear statement that in 2015 the defense is going to ramp up the pressure on quarterbacks, gang-tackle running backs, and take advantage of the speed and athleticism of the front seven.


Here is a look at how those players drafted Thursday and Friday fit that scheme and philosophy on defense:


1st round: #32 overall: Malcom Brown, defensive tackle, Texas:

Feb 20, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Texas defensive lineman Malcom Brown speaks to the media at the 2015 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Malcom Brown is 320 pound tackle with quick feet, explosive pass rush skills, and a strong motor. As such, most draft analysts had Brown off the board in the top twenty picks of the draft, and not getting past #24 overall if he tumbled. Instead, he was somehow available at #32 overall and the Patriots nearly tripped over themselves rushing their selection up to commissioner Roger Goodell to grab Brown.


Brown has good size, he is strong, and a gap-penetrating pass rushing defensive lineman. Those types of players are difficult to find in the NFL Draft and the defending Super Bowl champions were fortunate on Thursday night to have one land in their laps for the second straight season. Last season Dominique Easley–a potential top ten pick–fell to New England due to injury issues.


Sep 7, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New England Patriots defensive tackle Dominique Easley (left) and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (right) both take the field before a game against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Brown gives New England another interior defensive lineman with speed and pass rush ability to take pressure off the secondary. Having let Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis leave as free agents after their options were declined this offseason the Patriots acquired a couple of inconsistent veterans. A change in scheme and growth from some younger players will have to cover up the deficiencies in the coverage. Also, increasing the pass rush pressure to take pressure off the revamped secondary is another option. Brown and 2014 first round draft pick Easley can be key players in that role.


Make no mistake, Brown is no Vince Wilfork. He is not a two-gapping nose guard who is going to eat up blockers and allow linebackers to run around and make tackles. His role is to attack a gap and penetrate into the backfield and disrupt the play. He will be tasked with targeting opposing running backs and quarterbacks behind the line of scrimmage. The Patriots defense is not sitting back in coverage without pressure with Brown, Easley, and newcomer Jabaal Sheard on the defensive line: this is a defense designed to attack and cause chaos and make big plays.


2nd round: #64 overall: Jordan Richards, safety, Stanford:

Nov 1, 2014; Eugene, OR, USA; Stanford Cardinal safety Jordan Richards (8) and linebackers Blake Martinez (4) and A.J. Tarpley (17) swarm Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) in the first half at Autzen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Stanford safety Jordan Richards was a puzzling choice as many draft analysts had him going much later in the draft–even possibly on day three. Richards is a perfect fit for the new look New England defense as he is a big hitter in the running game, has the quickness to cover running backs and tight ends in coverage, and his football intelligence and communication skills are what made Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia want to pick him in the second round.


The Patriots have depth at safety, but the depth is limited. Duron Harmon is a cover-one free safety, but struggles playing closer to the line of scrimmage. Patrick Chung is very good in run support at the line of scrimmage, but cannot cover backs and tight ends without help. Tavon Wilson is a big hitter and special teams ace, but his inability to take proper angles in coverage saw him buried on the bench. Richards may be that in-the-box safety who has all the tools Belichick needs for the defense.


In addition, taking Richards and teaming him with Harmon and Chung may signal the return to cornerback for Devin McCourty. Paying a free safety almost $10 million a year seemed odd for the Patriots to do this off-season, but with a likely move back to more zone concepts in the secondary and McCourty having been a Pro Bowl cornerback in those defenses the drafting of Richards seems to signal McCourty earning his money back at his natural position.


3rd round: #96 overall: Traded with their 7th round (#219 overall) pick to the Cleveland Browns. New England received a 4th round (#111 overall), 5th round (#147 overall) and 6th round (#202 overall) pick in return:

Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; New England Patriots center Bryan Stork (66) in Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Moving down fifteen spots and adding a fifth round pick and moving from mid-seventh to the end of the sixth round has all the makings of a Bill Belichick draft day trade. New England has a slew of picks on day three now spaced all over the final four rounds and they should be able to get a number of offensive line prospects and at running back on day three. Last year the Patriots took running back James White, center Bryan Stork, and tackle Cameron Fleming in the fourth round.


With seven picks including three picks in the 4th round, a 5th round pick, two 6th round picks, and a compensatory pick at the end of the 7th round the Patriots will have a busy day on Saturday addressing depth on offense. White may have a key role in 2015, Stork started at center and was solid all season in 2014, and Fleming was valuable as the third tackle on running downs in 2014. Another fourth round like last year would position New England for future success.


3rd round: #97 overall: Geneo Grissom, defensive end/outside linebacker, Oklahoma:

Jan 24, 2015; Mobile, AL, USA; South squad outside linebacker Geneo Grissom of Oklahoma (85) enters the field during player introductions before the Senior Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. The North won, 34-13. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

With their compensatory pick at the end of the third round the Patriots took a project linebacker in Geneo Grissom from Oklahoma. Grissom had a knee injury shut him down at the end of the season, but on tape his versatility and athleticism jump off the screen. He played outside linebacker, defensive end, and even sub-rusher defensive tackle at Oklahoma.


Like linebacker Jamie Collins two years ago, Grissom may have been seen as an athlete without a position. However, Collins has blossomed in New England and finding another dynamic linebacker at the end of the third round is a coup for New England. Grissom will likely be designated pass rusher in a dime package to start in New England after the coaching staff tries him out at various spots in training camp.


Grissom may not be a starter right away, but he is an immediate upgrade over 2013 seventh round draft pick Michael Buchanan as a pass rusher. With his size and leaping ability, Grissom brings a dimension of being able to swat passes at the line of scrimmage–something he was extremely effective at in college. It will be interesting to see what direction the coaching goes in with Grissom whether they groom him as an outside linebacker/defensive end or move him to inside linebacker to potentially play a role like Collins inside.