Before last season, Brandon Deadrick and Kyle Love weren’t even on the radar.
By the end of the year, they were Super Bowl starters.
The ascendance of the former SEC athletes had as much to do with their ability as the lack of depth on the defensive line.
In fact, Love wasn’t supposed to be more than a rotational run stuffer before the Albert Haynesworth experiment imploded.
Deadrick had the fortune of playing for Belichick disciple Nick Saban at Alabama, starting 31 games for the Crimson Tide. After seeing a few snaps his rookie year, Deadrick emerged as a solid, if not unspectacular starter at left end.
As well as the two young guns played, they don’t appear to have any physical traits that will place them amongst the league’s best at their respective positions. Deadrick in particular doesn’t fit the mold of a 4-3 end, although he did display more pass-rushing skills than I anticipated.
With Vince Wilfork entrenched on the inside, the Pats have a premier run stuffer and underrated interior rusher. However, the depth on the defensive line could take a major hit with Gerard Warren, Shaun Ellis, Andre Carter and Mark Anderson all slated to hit free agency.
Luckily for the Pats, this year’s crop of free agents is filled with star talent, and with $20 million in cap space, they could be in position to add a former number one pick in Texans DE/OLB Mario Williams.
The 6-foot-6, 283-pounder is an absolute beast of a man with incredible strength, speed and hand usage. He went down early last season with a torn pectoral muscle, but managed to rack up five sacks as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
After entering the league as the top pick in 2006 over heralded college stars in Reggie Bush and Vince Young, Williams has far outproduced his peers from that class. Although he has missed some time with injuries during his career, he is known as a hard worker and until the past two seasons, he was the only true pass-rushing threat on his team.
In New England, Williams would present a serious matchup problem for opposing offenses and a movable piece for Bill Belichick. Because of his length and strength, Williams is a great run defender and would seem well suited to set the edge when standing up. His greatest asset is his ability to get after the quarterback, and because of his unique athleticism the Patriots could employ both 3-4 and 4-3 looks.
There were reports that the Patriots made a contract offer to a similarly skilled Julius Peppers back in ’09, so expect some action with the more consistent Williams.
If the Pats aren’t willing to break the bank for Super Mario, they could look to add a perfect hybrid player in Detroit Lions defensive end Cliff Avril. He certainly won’t come cheaply, but the former third-round pick has quietly become one of the league’s best playmakers at the position.
Standing 6-foot-3, 260 pounds with 4.5 speed, Avril fits the mold of Belichick’s outside linebacker. While he isn’t nearly the player against the run as Williams, Avril has racked up 30.0 sacks in 57 games (.53 per game). By comparison, Williams has 53.0 in 82 (.65 per game). However, Avril has forced 14 fumbles and recovered five while Williams only has 11 and three.
Although most people think pressuring the quarterback is best achieved on the edge, getting a push up the middle is actually the best way to throw a quarterback’s timing off.
New England doesn’t have anyone on the roster capable of wreaking havoc up the middle (that’s not a knock on Vince), but there is one free agent who fits that description perfectly: Jason Jones.
Jones is another player from the ’08 draft class, the same one that produced Jerod Mayo, who has quietly ascended up the ranks.
Blessed with an incredible burst (1.59 10-yard split), Jones registered nine sacks in his first 20 games, but has been limited by injury and a position change in Tennessee. The Titans moved him from three-technique to defensive end last season, and his numbers dipped to only 27 tackles and three sacks.
Pairing Jones with Wilfork would give the Patriots a formidable one-two punch because of their complementary styles. Jones shouldn’t cost too much since he’s coming off a down year, but there will definitely be competition for his services.
For the past four years, the Pats have needed to upgrade the pass rush. Belichick is adverse to drafting defensive ends/outside linebackers early, so this could be the year to be aggressive on the open market.