Phil Perry

Prototypical Patriots: Explosive edge defenders for Jerod Mayo's group

Edge defender is an under-the-radar-need for the Patriots entering this year's draft.

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Whereas the offensive portion of our Prototypical Patriots series has been altered drastically in terms of determining the best fits for New England with Eliot Wolf functioning as the new personnel chief in town, we may not have the same issues on the defensive side of things.

Why? Head coach Jerod Mayo and defensive coordinator DeMarcus Covington are former pupils of Bill Belichick. They may make alterations to the scheme as it existed under their old boss, but in all likelihood they'll be looking for the same kinds of things the Patriots were looking for in the draft when the greatest coach in the history of the sport was still employed at One Patriot Place.

That means big-bodied linebackers. Two-gapping defensive tackles. Quick, aggressive cornerbacks. And those we'll be highlighting here: tough edge defenders, who have the wherewithal to handle a variety of responsibilities.

If you go all the way back to the early portion of Belichick's tenure in New England -- when his preference was then, as it is now, a 3-4 style scheme -- you can find certain characteristics that he looked for consistently. Whether it was Willie McGinest or Mike Vrabel, whether it was Tully Banta-Cain or Rob Ninkovich, whether it was Anfernee Jennings or Keion White ... there was a mold.

If the Patriots are going to continue to run a Belichickian scheme defensively, he was typically looking for outside linebackers who were 6-foot-2 or taller, about 250 pounds, with 33-inch arms or longer and almost 10-inch hands. If you come in under those marks (as Josh Uche did in 2020 at 6-foot-1, 245 pounds), you'd better be a special athlete.

Belichick's best outside 'backers have tended to be explosive specimens. Their vertical jumps easily glide past 30 inches and their broad jumps coast past nine feet. Quickness helps, too. Most have had three-cone times hovering around the 7.00-second mark.

Who checks all those boxes -- or most of 'em, at least -- in this year's class? Let's get to the Prototypes.

Laiatu Latu (6-foot-5, 259 pounds)

Highlights of UCLA edge defender Laiatu Latu

Polish for days. Latu was medically retired by doctors at University of Washington, but he transferred, got back on the field at UCLA, and proceeded to terrorize quarterbacks. He had 12.5 tackles for loss in 2022 and was a First Team AP All-American last season with 21.5 tackles for loss and 13.0 sacks.

He's not the most explosive player on this list, but he has enough juice athletically to qualify (32-inch vertical, 9-foot-8 broad), and he has plenty of size (10-inch hands, 33-inch arms). His 7.09-second three-cone time suggests he has the kind of lower-body flexibility that will allow him to continue creating havoc off the edge. As long as he can stay healthy.

Chop Robinson, Penn State (6-foot-3, 254 pounds)

Highlights of Penn State edge defender Chop Robinson

This is the beauty of our Prototypical lists. You can have two players practically on opposite ends of the development spectrum, and yet both qualify.

Like Latu, Robinson hits almost every marker we're looking for here. Unlike Latu, he has a long way to go in terms of refinement in his pass-rush plans. But with 33-inch arms, a 34.5-inch vertical, a whopping 10-foot-8 broad and a very quick 7.01-second cone drill, Robinson has oodles of physical gifts.

The Patriots figure to invest heavily on offense with their first couple of picks, but Robinson could be available at the top of the second round. And his traits would make him worthy of a second look from the powers that be in Foxboro.

Marshawn Kneeland, Western Michigan (6-foot-3, 267 pounds)

Highlights of Michigan edge defender Marshawn Kneeland

Plus frame. Plus length (34.5-inch arms). Plus explosiveness (35.5-inch vertical). Plus quickness (7.02-second cone). Kneeland might be the best fit in the class based on what the Patriots have drafted in the past. He was a captain last season, and he's viewed as a player who brings next-level effort as a multi-purpose edge-defender.

He may be too talented -- particularly at a premium position -- to get all the way to the end of Day 2 for the Patriots to have a crack at drafting him. But if they could figure out a way to address what they need to address offensively, it would come as little surprise if New England wanted to find a way for him to be their first defensive player drafted. He seems like a damn-near-perfect match.

Jalyx Hunt, Houston Christian (6-foot-4, 252 pounds)

Houston Christian? Near the top of a list of prototypes? You better believe it. Though we'll have more names listed here, few match trait-for-trait what Hunt has. Particularly when we compare those characteristics against what the Patriots usually want on the edge.

Ten-inch hands? Check. Long arms? Check (34.5 inches). Ridiculous explosiveness? Check (37.5-inch vertical, 10-foot-8 broad). Good enough measured agility? Check (7.18-second three-cone drill). The Patriots reportedly hosted Hunt for a top-30 visit, and it makes sense that they would like to get to know him a little better.

What a transformation he underwent in college, going from a 195-pound safety at Cornell to a legitimate pass-rush prospect who weighs over 250 pounds. He racked up 20.5 sacks over the last two seasons playing for Houston Christian (formerly Houston Baptist).

Jared Verse, Florida State (6-foot-4, 254 pounds)

Highlights of Florida State edge defender Jared Verse

If the Patriots are looking for a bull-rusher for their "crush-rush" pass-rush plans against mobile quarterbacks, Verse would be a nice add. Only problem is, he's probably going to be a first-round pick. Still, he makes the list with his 10-inch hands, and 35-inch vertical.

He's a twitched-up athlete with good power who you could see serving as a "Sam" outside 'backer in Jerod Mayo's system. After gaining, by his estimates, about 40 pounds of muscle during the pandemic, he'd be well-suited to handle the rugged duties Patriots coaches typically ask of their edge guys.

Darius Robinson, Missouri (6-foot-5, 285 pounds)

Highlights of Missouri defensive lineman/edge defender Darius Robinson

After drafting a super-sized edge defender in the second round last year -- the Patriots actually considered Keion White in the first round before taking Christian Gonzalez -- would they ever do it again? Probably not. Still, we have to include Robinson here.

He's a physically-imposing force to stack up blockers at the end of the line of scrimmage. He has 11-inch hands and 34.5-inch arms that are eyebrow-raising enough alone. Add a 35-inch vertical to the mix, and you've got a real specimen on your hands.

He could very well end up being a first-round pick. Guys like this, as they say, don't grow on trees.

Chis Braswell, Alabama (6-foot-3, 251 pounds)

Highlights of Alabama edge defender Chris Braswell

It wouldn't be a Prototypical Patriots edge defender list without a 'Bama guy, would it?

Braswell is on the smaller end weight-wise. And he's not an uber athlete. But he just narrowly enters into this particular discussion with his 33-inch arms and 33-inch vertical. Plus, he may just not be a next-level tester. He made The Athletic's "Freaks List" in each of the last two years, having hit 21.9 miles per hour on the GPS for the Crimson Tide and having squatted over 700 pounds, per Bruce Feldman.

He has a nose for the ball (three forced fumbles, two blocked kicks in his career), and enough in the way of experience (over 1,000 snaps) in order to be able to compete for time right away in New England's 3-4 base scheme.

Cedric Johnson, Ole Miss (6-foot-3, 260 pounds)

Johnson was a late-round choice in The People's Mock Draft, and would give Mayo another do-it-all edge type ... if he reaches his ceiling.

His frame is built to withstand linemen trying to grind out space in the running game. He's also athletic enough (4.63-second 40, 38-inch vertical) to make some noise as a pass-rusher. He was especially effective on twists and stunts for the Runnin' Rebels, which could help him carve a role in new defensive coordinator DeMarcus Covington's scheme.

He looks like a football-character fit, too, given that he took home Ole Miss' Chucky Mullins Courage Award, given to the defensive player that embodies courage, leadership, perseverance and determination. 

Brennan Jackson, Washington State (6-foot-4, 266 pounds)

Maniacal effort. That's what the Patriots would be getting from Jackson if they called his name on Day 3. They'd also be getting someone with prototypical size, which includes his 10-inch hands and almost 36-inch arms.

Jackson was a Second Team All Pac-12 selection each of the last two years, picking up a combined 24.5 tackles for loss in those seasons. He was also a two-time captain, suggesting he'd be the kind of fit Mayo and Wolf are looking for this offseason.

Eric Watts, UConn, 6-foot-6, 274 pounds

If you're looking for traits late on Day 3, look no further than Watts. This is a gargantuan human (10-inch hands, 36-inch arms), with legitimate lower-body twitch (36.5-inch vertical, 9-foot-9 broad). Some of his closest comps from a physical standpoint on are Aldon Smith and Bradley Chubb.

He's not the most fluid rusher here. And he's going to need some time to develop into a rotational rusher, in all likelihood. But he'll be available late in the draft for a reason. With the right coaching, with his tools, he may end up a steal down the line. 

Braiden McGregor, Michigan (6-foot-5, 254 pounds)

Another good option for a defense that has been liberal in its use of twists and stunts up front. McGregor did it for the Wolverines and could potentially in a few years in Foxboro.

McGregor isn't the bendiest of rushers on this list. Nor does he have next-level change-of-direction skills (4.63-second shuttle). But he's a former high-level high school hockey player. He's tough. He comes from a pro-style program. There are a lot of reasons for why he'd make sense for Mayo.

Myles Cole, Texas Tech (6-foot-6, 278 pounds)

Cole is a Deatrich Wise-type up front. Long and strong. Wise checked into the combine back in 2017 at 6-foot-5, 274 pounds with 36-inch arms. Cole is a little bigger and a little longer (37-inch arms), and could -- like Wise -- play multiple techniques along the line of scrimmage.

He's a super (duper?) senior coming out; like many COVID-era college prospects, he spent six years in school. But he wasn't all that productive for a draftable player, with nine tackles for loss in 25 games over the last two years. Still, his 35-inch vertical and 10-foot broad jump are eye-opening enough to make him worthy of a Day 3 choice.

Trajan Jeffcoat, Arkansas (6-foot-4, 266 pounds)

There are going to be some big-bodied athletes available late in the draft, and Jeffcoat figures to be one of them. This was a Razorbacks team captain with big hands (just over 10 inches) and long arms (33 inches), who needs a little more coaching to coax the most out of his physical traits.

He had 29 pressures while playing an SEC schedule in 2023, though, so there is some evidence that he can make an impact after taking the next step up in competition. 

Solomon Byrd, USC (6-foot-3, 251 pounds)

Byrd has just enough in the way of size and production to land here. He also may bring an atypical level of maturity to the Patriots rookie class if brought aboard. He’s married with two children, and the Wyoming transfer already has his degree in American Studies in hand. He was pursuing a masters in gerontology while with the Trojans, per The Athletic.

His go-go-go play style and ability to bother quarterbacks (41 pressures last season) may get him drafted late, but at the moment he might be more in the pass-rush specialist mold rather than the every-down mauler New England often values.

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