New England Patriots 53-man 2018 Roster Projection v1.0: Defensive End/Edge Rusher

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Trey Flowers #98 of the New England Patriots looks on in the first half of Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Trey Flowers #98 of the New England Patriots looks on in the first half of Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

As we get closer to the start of the regular season, here is how the New England Patriots might look on the edge come the fall.

With the NFL Free Agency and the NFL Draft complete, teams are in various stages of their Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and other off-season workouts. The New England Patriots have just completed their mandatory mini-camps and more voluntary OTAs will soon be taking place in Foxboro.

Parts one through six kicked-off the roster projection with a look at the offense and were broken up into the quarterback position, the running back position, the tight end and fullback position, the wide receiver position, offensive tackle position, and the guard and center position.

Part seven kicked-off a look at the defense starting with the defensive line position, and part eight examines the much-maligned defensive end and edge rusher position:


Starter(s): Adrian Clayborn, Trey Flowers

Back-up(s): Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise Jr.

Roster Bubble Boy(s): Geneo Grissom, Eric Lee, Keionta Davis, Frank Herron, Trent Harris


After Super Bowl 52, every NFL pundit dusted off their usual offseason article about the Patriots needing to add to their pass rush. It has been 18 years in New England for Bill Belichick and he still plays a conservative defense that does not dial up a pass rush unless the team is in desperate straits and even then usually only a five-man pressure package.

Everyone clamored for a big name pass rusher via a trade, free agency or the draft. Instead, the Patriots signed Rob Ninkovich version 2.0 in Adrian Clayborn. Clayborn has some pass rush skills, but is primarily an edge-setting force who plays with discipline and is in the proper position.

The Patriots missed Ninkovich (and Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long) more than most realized last season and Clayborn is another player who gets the Patriots’ defense where Bill Belichick wants it: disciplined, run-stopping, and forcing offenses to take what the defense gives them. He should step in for the ageless wonder, James Harrison, who gave the Patriots a huge boost on the edge with his strength at setting the edge in the rushing game and applying pressure on the quarterback from the outside.

Across from Clayborn is the impressive Trey Flowers. Flowers is the best all-around defensive lineman on the roster. He is excellent against the run and setting the edge and also has the pass rushing prowess to create pressure consistently. He is moved from the edge inside so his strength and quickness can create mismatches with interior linemen. He only had 6.5 sacks, but per Flowers was 19th among edge rushers with 59 regular season quarterback pressures.

As a designated pass rusher, 2017 fourth round draft pick Deatrich Wise Jr. performed better than anticipated finishing third on the team with 5.0 sacks. Wise was a liability in the running game as he did not have the strength to consistently set the edge and was often pushed out of the way by stronger tackles. His speed and agility was fine when rushing the passer, but he needs to add lower body strength and disengage from blockers.

Last year’s top draft pick Derek Rivers missed all of 2017 with a noncontact torn ACL suffered in the preseason on a kickoff coverage drill in the second week of the preseason. If he returns to full strength and speed, he should give the defense a boost as an edge rusher. He has upside but the scary comp in the NFL for him is Cassius Marsh, who was a disaster in New England. Rivers will have to show he can be disciplined and play with leverage against the run to get on the field in 2018.

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The Roster Bubble Boys:

Geneo Grissom, Eric Lee, Keionta Davis, Frank Herron, and Trent Harris are the “depth” at the position in training camp. Amazingly, Grissom was drafted ahead of Flowers in 2015. Since then, it has been downhill for Grissom who has been a special teams player, released multiple times and stashed on the practice squad at times.

Lee was signed off the Buffalo practice squad and started five games and had 3.5 sacks. He lost playing time once James Harrison was signed and is likely to be battling for a roster spot with Wise and Rivers.  Lee–along with Grissom–is likely fighting for one roster spot with Rivers behind Wise, Flowers and Clayborn.

Keionta Davis was placed on injured reserve after being signed as an undrafted free agent. He was initially expected to be a mid-round draft pick last year before medical concerns (bulging disc in his neck) landed him on injured reserve. He could be a surprise as he has excellent size and showed impressive athleticism at Chattanooga.

Frank Herron comes from SEC powerhouse LSU and has size (six-foot-four, 312 pounds), versatility (played tackle and end for LSU) and unknown discipline issues (he was suspended six games last year for an undisclosed reason). Trent Harris is a slight outside linebacker/defensive end (six-foot-two, 238 pounds) who played for Miami in the ACC. He may be more of project to stash on the practice squad and convert to inside linebacker.

Final Word:

The roster crunch with so much young and proven talent in the defensive secondary and at wide receiver again means that while there are five or six viable roster candidates on the edge, there are in this projection only four spots available. Davis, Herron and Harris are likely fighting for a practice squad spot barring major injuries to the players in front of them.

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Geneo Grissom is a special teams ace and a favorite of Bill Belichick and the defensive coaching staff. Eric Lee was on the New England radar for long time and he flashed pass rush ability stepping in late in the season. On first glance, these two seem like players the Patriots staff would love to keep in 2018.  Right now, however, it looks like Flowers, Clayborn and Wise are locks with Rivers–if healthy–the favorite to hold off the rest of the pack at defensive end/edge rusher.