Patriots’ defensive line doesn’t impress without top draftees

ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 06: Davon Godchaux #92 of the New England Patriots attempts to tackle Zack Moss #20 of the Buffalo Bills in the second half of the game at Highmark Stadium on December 06, 2021 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)
ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 06: Davon Godchaux #92 of the New England Patriots attempts to tackle Zack Moss #20 of the Buffalo Bills in the second half of the game at Highmark Stadium on December 06, 2021 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images) /

The New England Patriots hardly invested much 2022 draft capital at all in their defensive line (only a sixth-round pick) and that leaves them with a less than impressive unit, at least on the surface.

That sixth-rounder was Sam Roberts, a small college player, who is nevertheless an intriguing one. More about him later. There were other players to be had earlier or possibly even in middle rounds, but the Pats passed and that could prove quite costly.

For a team that has enjoyed some success in drafting that position over the years, they opted to go in a different direction. One of their all-time best was Vince Wilfork, the ever-popular nose tackle, a first-round pick in 2004, and the team’s most recent inductee into the red-jacketed Patriots Hall of Fame.

The most recent prosperous player at the position was Christian Barmore, of the fabulous Draft Class of 2021. And he wants to get better.

Barmore has all the makings of a true star on the defensive line and arguably the best in Foxborough since Wilfork, so it was a shame that the team didn’t add a D-line companion for him in this year’s questionable draft. So let’s take a look at what the New England Patriots do have on the D-line to ensure success on that front in 2022.

Patriots’ defensive line lacks top talent other than Christian Barmore

Talent is as talent does. To be considered talented you have to perform. Too many of the Patriots’ defensive linemen are just average performers and not special players. Those are fine if you have two or three outstanding ones playing alongside them. The Patriots do not.

Barmore is the exception. He’s a terrific talent. He exhibited his pocket-collapsing abilities demonstrably in his rookie season in 2021. He was an absolute force, a menace in the middle, and best right on the nose. Though not a prototypical nose tackle, he nevertheless dominated one, two, or even three blockers at that spot. That’s the position he should play, whether he’s a “prototypical” nose or not. He can be one of the league’s best.

After Barmore, there’s Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux (a relatively high-priced free agent last offseason), Carl Davis, Dietrich Wise Jr., and in-season pickup Daniel Ekuale. None of Guy, Godchaux, Davis, or Wise did anything exceptional in 2021. Few sacks were recorded and though Godchaux had a decent 65 tackles and one sack while Guy had 60 and 1.5 sacks, their impact on games was minimal. Davis and Wise didn’t move the needle all that much either.

Now, defenders will say an interior lineman’s role is to tie up blockers, blah, blah, blah. Rather, the fact of the matter is that defensive linemen control everything else on the defense. If they are disruptive and make plays in the form of sacks, forced fumbles, or batted-down passes, the defense and the team are better for it. Tying up blockers simply ain’t enough.

Ekuale showed flashes after he was picked up mid-season and in seven games notched two sacks. The potential may be there but we’ll have to see what eventuates. At least there are some playmaking prospects there. And, back to the 2022 draft as noted, Sam Roberts was the only defensive lineman drafted. He could surprise.

Patriots sixth-round pick Sam Roberts is their hope for a draft surprise talent

Roberts played at Northwest Missouri State. Here’s the good stuff, as noted by Pats Pulpit:

"“… he appeared in 50 games and registered 184 tackles — 47 for loss — as well as 18.5 sacks and a pair of forced fumbles. He also blocked five kicks during his college career, and was named MIAA Defensive Player of the Year in 2021. The team captain also earned the Cliff Harris Award, given annually to the best non-Division I defender.Strengths: Standing at 6-foot-5, 293 pounds with a massive 81 1/2-inch wingspan, Roberts has some good size as an interior lineman. A productive player, who held his own at the East-West Shrine Bowl, he did what he was supposed to do at the Division-II level: dominate."

Roberts is exactly what the team should target late in the draft. He’s a prospect who dominated at the lower level and may just need a chance to show it on a larger stage.

But, while he’s just a shot, had the Patriots invested a draft pick in the top three or even with one of their three picks in the fourth round, it would have made far better sense than taking, and maybe reaching, on each of those picks in taking a second cornerback, a running back, and a backup quarterback who you hope never, ever sees the field.

So that’s the outlook from this perspective. The Patriots didn’t get better alon g the defensive line in the offseason barring a surprise in the form of Roberts. They have Christian Barmore and a few other decent guys and that’s about all they have. Hopefully, it’s enough to contain the dynamic offenses of the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins, among others.

But frankly, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to bet the farm on that possibility. Added to the myriad questions at linebacker, it’s not at all likely to happen.