Phil Perry

Prototypical Patriots: Defensive tackle fits in 2024 draft class

Investing in a big-bodied DT could be a wise move for the Patriots on Day 3.

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If the Patriots are running the Bill Belichick-inspired defense that we expect them to run with Jerod Mayo as the head coach and DeMarcus Covington as the defensive coordinator, then we have a good idea of what the Patriots will be looking for at defensive tackle.

And they may be looking for defensive tackles. Davon Godchaux and Christian Barmore are under contract, and they did sign Armon Watts as a free agent. But Lawrence Guy is gone. And the more big-and-strong interior linemen New England can get their hands on, the better.

This defense is a derivative of a unit that valued Richard Seymour and Ty Warren enough to draft them in the first round to be 3-4 defensive ends, with good length and weighing in at about 300 pounds.

Vince Wilfork and Malcom Brown, meanwhile, were built more like nose tackles. They checked in at closer to 320 pounds and had the power to hold up against double teams.

There was Dominique Easley, who weighed well under 300 pounds (288) and was a penetrating three-technique with great athleticism billed as a pass-rushing menace. Fourth-round picks from earlier in Belichick's tenure, Jarvis Green (2002) and Dan Klecko (2003), also were deemed fits as lightly-built interior defenders.

But for this particular exercise, we'll focus more on the big-bodied types and assume that they like what they have in Barmore and Daniel Ekuale as pass-rushers from the interior.

Let's get to the names...

Maason Smith, LSU (6-foot-5, 306 pounds)

Highlights of LSU defensive tackle Maason Smith

Like some others in this year's draft class, Smith may end up giving his team more in 2024 than he did to his collegiate program in 2023. Coming off a 2022 ACL injury, Smith bounced back to play in 12 games for the Tigers but had just 4.5 tackles for loss.

If he has his strength all the way back as a rookie, Smith's length (35-inch arms) and strength should allow him to thrive in Mayo's versatile defensive fronts.

T'Vondre Sweat, Texas (6-foot-4, 366 pounds)

Highlights of University of Texas defensive tackle T'Vondre Sweat

This... is a tough one. Sweat arguably the best nose tackle in the class. His size is next-level. He has the frame to take on double-teams with no issues and enough in the way of athleticism to provide more than that as a backfield disruptor.

But he was arrested for DWI less than a month before the draft, and he has football character concerns that will give teams pause. He may last longer than his talent would suggest on draft weekend, and the Patriots may have to figure out at what point he'd be worthy of their investment. If at all.

Leonard Taylor, Miami (6-foot-3, 303 pounds)

Highlights of University of Miami defensive tackle Leonard Taylor III

Taylor has the size and explosive athleticism to hold up on the interior in New England's scheme. The only question is whether or not he can make a serious leap from the college game to the pro level. He'll turn 22 years old later this offseason so there should be room for the former five-star recruit to grow. If he gets the right coaching, if he refines his technique, he could be a Day 3 diamond in the rough.

The nice thing for the Patriots? Former University of Miami general manager of football operations Alonzo Highsmith will have a good idea as to just how Taylor will approach life as a pro. With his signoff, maybe the Patriots give him a shot in the later rounds.

Fabien Lovett Sr., Florida State (6-foot-4, 316 pounds)

Lovett is one of the players in this year's class who you've seen two-gap, making his projection in Foxboro perhaps a tad simpler. His 35.5-inch arms should help him lock out and find ball-carriers on early downs at the next level. His nearly 10.5-inch hands should also allow him to control blockers if the Patriots wanted to use him as a pocket-folder against the pass.

Lovett will be 25 years old as a rookie, so he may be a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of late-round prospect. But his length, strength and toughness will be valued in New England in a rotation along its interior defensive line.

Khristian Boyd, Northern Iowa (6-foot-2, 329 pounds)

Boyd is a nose-tackle type who'll need to take on double-teams at the next level. He has the power to sit down and hold his ground despite arms that measure less than 32 inches in length. Even if that's all he'll do, he's worth a look.

A team captain in 2023 and a four-year starter, if Boyd "hits," he's going to be the kind of block-absorber that will clear up the picture for Patriots linebackers and allow them to do their thing as tacklers.

Jordan Jefferson, LSU (6-foot-3, 316 pounds)

After four years at West Virginia, Jefferson made his way to Baton Rouge in 2023 and racked up seven tackles for loss in 13 games. He'll start his rookie season at 22 years old despite having played in 55 games as a collegian. He's strong (34 bench reps) and durable and has the length (33-inch arms) that could qualify him for a late-round selection. He may not be a ready-made two-gapper at this stage, but the traits are there.

Maybe Covington -- former Patriots defensive-line coach -- feels as though he can get more out of Jefferson that what he showed for the Tigers as a run-stuffer. 

McKinnley Jackson, Texas A&M (6-foot-1, 326 pounds)

Highlights of Texas A&M defensive tackle McKinnley Jackson

Put another nose on the board. While Jackson is among the shortest players on this list, he has long arms (34 inches) and big hands (10 inches) to help him control blockers he sees in the trenches. A two-time team captain, Jackson is a powerful mover and could end up impacting pass plays as a crush-rusher. But his sturdiness will be valued more in New England, where stopping the run on early downs is a priority.

If he can learn the finer points of the technique from someone like Godchaux, there's potential in Jackson that could make him a value selection toward the end of the draft.

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