While the offensive skill position players typically get the majority of attention from fans and media alike, championships are won on the lines. Throughout the tenure of head coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots have adhered to this philosophy, oftentimes with great success.
Although the Pats enjoyed stout play along the offensive line in 2020, the defensive line had its share of difficulties. Two of the areas in which they struggled were setting the edge and stopping the run. New England ranked 26th in the NFL in run defense.
While the effects of the pandemic cannot be ignored for any NFL team in 2020, the Pats struggles most notably came from the lack of a true presence in the middle of that line. Defensive tackle Danny Shelton departed via free agency. His would-be replacement, Beau Allen, was missing in action for the entirety of the season. Reserve tackle Carl Davis joined the team in October, via the Baltimore Ravens practice squad. The veteran defensive lineman performed reasonably well for New England, before suffering a concussion in November that would effectively end his season. As a result, a lot of pressure was placed on the shoulders of interior tackles Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler. Each played well in his role. However, it was clear that the Patriots simply did not have the personnel required to field the type of defensive line to which they had become accustomed.
As a result, New England set out to upgrade the position this offseason. Despite losing Adam Butler via free agency to the Miami Dolphins, their recent additions should provide the versatility and football acumen required to help mitigate that loss. Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson and Montravious Adams signed with the Pats as free agents. In addition, the team re-signed both Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise, Jr.
In the 2021 NFL Draft, the Pats selected two potential front-seven cornerstones in former Alabama Crimson Tide defensive tackle Christian Barmore, and Oklahoma defensive end Ronnie Perkins. While Perkins appears to be headed for a positional change to outside linebacker, both he and Barmore are expected to be impact players from the outset.
While the rookies are expected to garner a great deal of attention during this season’s training camp, here are three players that might raise an eyebrow… or perhaps, catch a ‘sharp eye’ along the Patriots defensive line.
One of the more prominent signings for the Pats in the early goings of free agency was former Dolphins defensive lineman Davon Godchaux. While the Pats struggled to contain the middle in 2020, Godchaux’s addition should greatly facilitate that task this season. Despite missing the rest of last season with a biceps injury (he was placed on injured reserve on October 16), Godchaux appears to be healthy and ready to contribute to his new team. At 6-foot-3, 310-pounds, he is a bit smaller than the prototypical Patriots’ nose tackle. However, he will bring a level of versatility to the interior of the defensive line that was not present for the Patriots in 2020. Godchaux is capable of playing all three tackle positions. However, he is likely to see the majority of his playing time in the middle.
Henry Anderson might just be one of the most underrated free agent signings of the NFL offseason. Last season with the New York Jets, Anderson played in all 16 games with eight starts. He posted a career-high 42 tackles with a half-sack and one blocked punt. Listed at 6’6” 301 pounds, the 29-year-old had the third-highest run-stuff rate among players with at least 500 defensive snaps in 2020 (cred: NFL Next Gen Stats.) Again, his presence will help to bolster a Patriots line, which had its problems against the run. Anderson also is also capable of providing assistance with rushing the passer, as well. When the Jets employed him primarily as a pass rusher in 2018, he notched seven sacks and 16 quarterback hits. Anderson’s versatility has the potential to earn him a starting spot along the interior of the defensive line, alongside Godchaux and Guy.
Deatrich Wise, Jr.
Veteran defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. will return to the Pats in 2021, after signing a four-year, $22 million contract this offseason. As a result, he will continue his career with the only professional team for which he has ever played. Since being selected as the 131st overall selection in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Wise has steadily improved each season, establishing himself as one of the more valuable players in New England’s front seven. The former Arkansas Razorback primarily played an edge role in college. However, Wise has transitioned into a traditional end in the Patriots’ 3-4 based fronts. Despite moving away from such alignments in 2020, Wise still posted 27 solo tackles, along with 2.5 sacks. However, the Pats offseason acquisitions (especially at the linebacker position) seem to indicate that they will be returning to a 3-4 defensive scheme this season. As a result, Wise might be poised to become more of a force on the end of the defensive line in 2021.