French philosopher Simone Weil once wrote: “The future is made of the same stuff as the present."
There are few, if any, organizations in professional sports that know this fact better than the New England Patriots. Maintaining more than two decades of excellence (in a league that is designed to promote parity) requires a steady approach and a steadfast goal. Though some may try to lessen their accomplishments, it is hard to argue the successes of Bill Belichick and the Patriots brain trust throughout the years.
Be warned, however, it is unwise to doubt their prospects for future success, as well.
New England looked to that future during the 2021 NFL Draft. For the avalanche of criticism heaped upon “Bill Belichick, the GM,” the crafty "hoodie" has built quite the formidable roster for the upcoming 2021 season. Although skill positions may get the headlines, championships are often won on the lines. And if we are talking all things “Belichickian,” we are talking defense.
Enter former Alabama Crimson Tide defensive tackle Christian Barmore and Oklahoma defensive end Ronnie Perkins.
In 2020, the Patriots ranked 26th in the league at stopping the run. This was primarily due to the lack of a stable, reliable presence in the middle of the defensive line, as well as difficulties when setting the edge.
While defensive tackles Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler had stellar seasons, the departure of Danny Shelton (along with the enigmatic "presence" of defensive tackle Beau Allen) did have an impact. Free agent acquisitions such as former Miami Dolphins defensive lineman Davon Godchaux and former New York Jets defensive end Henry Anderson will more than mitigate the loss of Butler, the Pats' most significant upgrades on the front seven may have come in the form of the aforementioned 2021 draft picks.
Barmore, at 6-4, 310 pounds, has the athletic profile to make an immediate impact on the Pats defensive line. A lifelong fan of the very team for which he will now play, Barmore was considered one of the best defensive linemen in the 2021 draft class. A stout defensive tackle, he blends his strength and power with great technique. During his time at Alabama, he shined in the Crimson Tide’s 3-4 setting, ranging from nose tackle to 3-4 defensive end. Based on their offseason roster additions, New England appears poised to return to a 3-4 set, similar to that which gave them great success in 2019.
Here is where Barmore can stand out for the Pats, sooner rather than later. He plays with good leverage, and is strong enough to take on double teams. He locates the ball quickly, chases with good effort and has excellent range for his size. Barmore has the quick hands and flexibility to develop into a disruptive pass rusher, with the potential to be an eventual three-down player.
However, Barmore is not the only rookie on the Pats 2021 roster with the potential to make a rapid impression. Chosen with the 96th overall selection, former Oklahoma defensive end Ronnie Perkins has the chance to be a potential draft steal.
Listed at 6-3, 247 pounds, Perkins had 5.5 sacks in six games during the 2020 season, bolstering the Sooners’ edge rush. While a six-game suspension for a failed drug test might explain his slide to the bottom half of the third round, Perkins’ talent cannot be denied. At his best, Perkins is a disruptive run defender. He is also a relentless pass rusher, with good burst and closing speed.
Several NFL analysts have projected Perkins to play on the edge of the defensive line, taking on the responsibilities of a traditional, stand-up rusher. Some have also speculated that he could be moved to outside linebacker. However, the Pats tend to fill that role with players who show a bit higher level of athleticism. No matter his assignment, Perkins has unqualified potential to continue a tradition of high-reward Patriots pass rushers.
With the Barmore and Perkins selections, it appears that the Patriots are intent on improving their pass rush. As noted by Pro Football Focus, Barmore and Perkins ranked second and third at their respective positions in pass rush win-rate in college football last year. Considering New England's recent difficulties in this area, it would not be surprising to see either Barmore or Perkins log significant playing time in 2021.
Despite the Pats’ penchant for slowly developing their rookies, both of their 2021 Day Two selections have the NFL-ready ability to help the team, while complementing each other nicely. Traditionally, the roles filled by Barmore and Perkins are vital to the success of formidable Patriots defenses. With each of them entering their rookie deals, New England’s defensive foundation may have just found two capable, strengthening cornerstones.
With minicamp set to open next week and training camp soon on the horizon, it might be fun to envision the long-term future of the Patriots front seven. Picture, if you will, New England facing a crucial third-down stop. Barmore lines up in the 3-technique role, over the outside shoulder of an opposing team’s offensive guard, responsible only for the B gap opposite him. Perkins aligns on the edge next to him, making both players even more disruptive.
Get used to seeing that, Patriots fans.
The future, made of the "same stuff as the present,” is looking pretty bright in Foxboro.