Phil Perry

Perry: These edge rushers in 2023 draft could bolster Pats' defense


An interesting thing has happened over the course of this year's pre-draft process in New England. Bill Belichick has invited all sorts of high-end edge defenders to One Patriot Place for a visit. Clemson's Myles Murphy, Iowa's Lukas Van Ness and Texas Tech's Tyree Wilson have all come through Foxboro.

But... why? Belichick's defense doesn't have a yawning need on the edge.

Of course, they could use a player there. Sure. Depth matters, particularly at a premium position like edge defender. But offensive tackle, receiver and corner are spots on the Patriots roster that need more immediate help.

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So what gives?

Ain't rocket science. We should be keeping a close eye on edge defenders, even if the Patriots opt not to go with one of the best of the best at this position in this year's class, because throwing young talent at a critical spot like on the edge is never a bad idea.

OK then. If the Patriots go that route, what do they like? 

Typically they're looking for players who check in around 260 pounds, with 33-inch arms and almost 10-inch hands, with broad jumps that sniff 10 feet and three-cone times nearing the 7.00-second mark.

Easy enough, right? Not so much. Ain't many humans on the planet with all of those traits. 

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Of course, we're leaving some excellent players off this list who don't check all those boxes, like Georgia's Nolan Smith, for example. He may end up an impact player. He may end up an impact player in Foxboro. But at 238 pounds we just can't have him on a list of "prototypes" for the Patriots. 

With that, let's get to it...

Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech, 6-foot-6, 271 pounds

He's going to be just about everyone's prototype at this position. For the Patriots, he definitely qualifies. His almost 36-inch arms allow him to establish first contact with tackles. His strength allows him to control them. His twitch then allows him to make plays that others can't.

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Wilson has some injury concerns (foot), but he could be the No. 2 overall pick. Would come as no surprise if the Nick Caserio-led Texans front office loved him, understanding Caserio's history as a Belichick protege.

Myles Murphy, Clemson, 6-foot-5, 268 pounds

Here's another rare specimen at a premium position. Murphy isn't the most refined pass-rusher in the class. And his 8.5-inch hands are borderline disqualifying for this list where so much of what we're looking for is predicated on physical traits.

But there simply aren't many humans with Murphy's frame who can run a 4.53-second 40. That's one one hundredth of a second slower than Ohio State's Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who might be the first receiver drafted this year. Murphy has long arms (34 inches) and enough bend (7.21-second three-cone time) to safely land here. 

Lukas Van Ness, Iowa, 6-foot-5, 272 pounds

The formula ain't all that complicated. If you're a burly edge with real explosiveness pent up in your body, you've got a chance to be included here. Van Ness (34-inch arms) fits the profile. His 7.02-second three-cone time was absurd for someone with his build.

He wasn't a starter at Iowa because coach Kirk Ferentz likes to start upper-classmen. But Van Ness played a starter's workload and exhibited a relentlessness that would make him a no-doubt fit in New England demeanor-wise. 

Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Kansas State, 6-foot-3, 255 pounds

More freaky traits here. The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year had back-to-back excellent seasons for Kansas State, racking up 19.5 sacks and 25 tackles for loss in that span. Human beings his size should not be able to change direction the way Anudike-Uzomah can (6.94-second three-cone time), and when combined with his hustler's mentality he looks like a playmaking edge defender who could fit seamlessly in Foxboro. 

Will Anderson, Alabama, 6-foot-3, 253 pounds

On paper, Anderson should be the top player listed here. There's the Alabama connection. There's the production in the SEC (34.5 sacks in three years, unanimous All-American two straight years, SEC Defensive Player of the Year two straight years). But his size knocks him down this list a tad.

The Patriots have certainly had 250-pound edge defenders. Kyle Van Noy is a good example of one. Josh Uche is another (and he's likely even lighter than that). But to be an every-down player at that spot, Belichick is usually looking for someone with a little more weight to hold up in the running game. It'll be fascinating to see how Anderson's game translates at the pro level after being so reliant upon his power with Alabama. 

Keion White, Georgia Tech, 6-foot-5, 285 pounds

Here's an edge defender who has nothing to worry about when it comes to size. He would be a supersized edge for Belichick. But he's a great athlete. A tight end at Old Dominion, White moves well in space and appears to have some ability to drop into coverage off the edge if needed.

There's no question he has the strength and length (34-inch arms, 10-inch hands) to be able to put tight ends and tackles on their heels. That kind of versatility... That rare height-weight-speed combination (4.76-second 40)... He's a fairly easy add to this list.

YaYa Diaby, Louisville, 6-foot-3, 263 pounds

Diaby was asked to be a power player for the Cardinals. And if he makes his way to New England there's no question they'll ask him to use his 34-inch arms to set an edge on early downs. But as a big-bodied outside linebacker -- one of his top matches on is Adalius Thomas -- with ridiculous explosive traits (his 1.51 10-yard split would've been a top-10 figure for receivers),

Diaby would be an intriguing fit for Bill Belichick, Jerod Mayo and Steve Belichick. 

Will McDonald, Iowa State, 6-foot-4, 245 pounds

Perhaps on the opposite end of the spectrum from Diaby when it comes to this list, McDonald is a polished pass-rusher whose frame should allow him to breeze by one-on-one blocks at the next level. But like Diaby, interestingly, he was asked to eat double-teams for Iowa State.

Once he gets into a role that will accentuate his nimble-but-explosive skill set (11-foot broad jump, 6.85-second three-cone time), he should shine as a pass-rusher. As far as the "prototypes" discussion is concerned here, he has the height, length and explosive power the Patriots are looking for. His weight just makes him more of an Uche type as opposed to a Matthew Judon (6-foot-3, 261 pounds) type. 

Derick Hall, Auburn, 6-foot-3, 264 pounds

Powerful build. Long arms (almost 35 inches). Production in the SEC (back-to-back seasons with double-digit tackles for loss). His three-cone time wasn't near the 7.0-second figure the Patriots have drafted early in the past, but that's not to say he's not a good athlete. Hall is a freak in his own right with a 4.55-second 40 (94th percentile), a 10-foot-7 broad jump (93rd) and a 1.59-second 10-yard split (87th).

He's just a shade over 250 pounds, but he plays like he's 10 pounds heavier thanks to an overwhelming-at-times bull rush and the strength to take on SEC tackles in the running game. He might wait a while on Day 2 to hear his name called because he's not a refined rusher yet, but that can come with time. He has a physical skill set (not to mention an aggressive approach) that can't be taught. 

Ali Gaye, LSU, 6-foot-6, 263 pounds

A captain for LSU in 2022, Gaye wasn't able to test athletically prior to the draft because he injured himself at the combine. He played in just four games in 2021 after suffering a torn labrum and wasn't a big-time producer for LSU in his final season (2.5 sacks). But he has the kind of projectable frame that will make outside 'backer or defensive line coaches salivate on Day 3.

He may end up an undrafted free agent, but his length (34-inch arms, 81-inch wingspan) and effort level will give him a chance to have some staying power.

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