Patriot Priorities For 2015: Defensive Front Seven
The run to the 2014 Super Bowl Championship was an incredible tale of perseverence and hard work. The New England Patriots were counted out by many a pundit after falling to 2-2 and looking like an ordinary team in the NFL landscape. Tom Brady was accused of being the problem, and his legacy was a distant memory in many minds.
Despite some great free-agent pick-ups (Darrelle Revis), it looked like there was little chemistry and even less spirit on the squad. There were questions all over the roster, and even returning stars had seemingly lost their shine.
But we all know the rest of the story. We saw a beleaguered franchise rise above and conquer the football world. We saw players come back from previous injuries to give 110% in the cause... Rob Gronkowski, Shane Vereen, and Vince Wilfork.
If there was a most important cog in the defensive machine, it was big, Vince. Sure, Revis got more attention, but Vince was the life-blood.
There were questions about his age and health, but he still wanted to play, and fans expected him to be the rock, at least for the near future, in the front line. And now he is gone, along with Johnathan Casillas, and possibly Akeem Ayers as some have speculated.
There is no doubt that these players contributed significantly to the success of the Patriot defense. The Pats were +14 in the sack department, thanks in large part to the versatility of their front seven.
Perhaps this is part of the youth movement that started a couple of years ago. While Wilfork wasn't exactly ancient (11 years), he was the oldest defender, followed by Rob Ninkovich at nine years, all the way down to second year players like Jamie Collins.
That also seems to be bringing more speed to this defense, as well, which can be just as effective as size and power. The Patriots still have Sealver Siliga as a huge run-stuffer, and if Jerod Mayo comes back, they will have plenty of punch in the middle.
The draft could be a source for hope for the Pat's up front. A big body would make sense with that 32nd pick, although Belichick is just as likely to trade down to get himself an extra pick or two for value later in the process.
Either way, this is a position of need, and the likes of Carl Davis from Iowa should fill the bill quite nicely. I could also see a "tweener" catching the attention of the coaching staff. Eli Harold from Virginia has been mentioned for that kind of role with the Patriots.
Another source for help is in the ranks of free agents that hit the market over the past week. The Patriots may be interested in a solid role player like Jabaal Sheard from Cleveland. He is similar in size to Ninkovich, which makes him the kind of versatile player that Belichick likes to plug into this defense.
This seems like the highest priority for a defense that has lost some star power. They may not find another Revis or Wilfork, but can find those consistent contributors that get the job done. I can't predict what Bill will do, but I can see that as the most important part of another deep playoff run. I really do believe that defense wins championships.