Newly Added/Retained: Kony Ealy, Lawrence Guy
Departed: Chris Long, Jabaal Sheard
Need Level: High
The Patriots were clearly moving on from Jabaal Sheard after a solid 2015 season was followed-up with a disappointing 2016 season which saw him benched at one point of the season. Chris Long proved to be a one-year rental as he moved on in the offseason in search of a defense which would allow him to maximize his playing time and positional preference.
There was little panic in New England as 2015 fourth-round draft pick Trey Flowers exploded on the scene as a pass-rushing beast in his second season in the NFL. After missing almost all of his rookie season to injury, Flowers moved inside and outside like a chess piece maximizing his quickness and explosive pass rush.
Behind Flowers–the defensive star of Super Bowl 51–the Patriots added Kony Ealy–the defensive star of Super Bowl 50–in exchange for moving down a handful of spots in the middle of the draft. Ealy fell out of favor in Carolina but has the skills to thrive as a pass rusher in the NFL with the right motivation. Defensive line coach Brendan Daly will have his work cut out for him in getting Ealy to maximize his potential.
Behind the projected starters there is little depth. Rob Ninkovich is getting up there in age and cannot be counted upon to play more than 500 to 600 snaps effectively. Geneo Grissom–taken a round earlier than Flowers in 2015–has been a disappointment and contributed only on special teams.
Lawrence Guy is probably best at defensive tackle rather than end due to his size. At six-foot-four and 300 pounds, Guy is not the typical 4-3 defensive end. His strength at the point of attack allows New England to use him all over the line but his lack of speed on the edge could be a weakness playing too much there.