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New England Patriots

3 NFL Draft fixes for Patriots pass rush

Stephen Sheehan

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Nov 18, 2017; Bloomington, IN, USA; Indiana Hoosiers running back Cole Gest (20) is tackled by Rutgers Scarlet Knights defensive lineman Kemoko Turay (58) during the second quarter of the game the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports
Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

While the New England Patriots finished fifth in points allowed and tied for sixth in sacks during the regular season, the team’s lack of top-end talent along the front seven reared its ugly head in the Super Bowl LII loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Overmatched against Philadelphia’s powerful offensive line, New England mustered just five quarterback hits and zero sacks in the third Super Bowl loss of the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era. Nick Foles and his deep arsenal of weapons dropped 41 points on Belichick’s bend-but-don’t-break defense in one of the most stunning performances in NFL history.

If the Patriots plan on making another deep postseason run, they must address the edge position in the 2018 NFL Draft. Armed with the 31st pick plus two second-rounders, the Patriots have the draft capital to add a starter-caliber pass rusher in April. Let’s take a look at three NFL Draft fixes for the Patriots’ pass rush.

Sam Hubbard, Ohio State

At the edge position, the Patriots value length, size and physicality. Think Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel and Chandler Jones. In keeping with that physical prototype, Hubbard fits the mold perfectly. Tipping the scales at 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, he boasts the exact dimensions as Jones and happens to hail from the same school as Vrabel.

A former lacrosse player who nearly committed to Notre Dame, Hubbard grew into his frame and transitioned from safety to linebacker before settling in at defensive end. In three years at Ohio State, Hubbard racked up 17 sacks and 30 tackles for loss. His strong junior campaign included second-team All-Big Ten honors after he racked up seven sacks for a 12-2 team.

Though Hubbard is not necessarily a freak athlete, he fits the mold of a Patriot edge defender because of his intelligence, versatility and sound technique. With his size, he could line up as a traditional 4-3 defensive end and be a solid complement to emerging star Trey Flowers. On the other hand, Hubbard’s skill set would also make him an excellent candidate to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 system, which New England also utilizes.

Given Belichick’s close relationship with Urban Meyer, he should have plenty of intel on Hubbard. In general, the Patriots often take steady, safe prospects in the first round (Devin McCourty, Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower and Malcom Brown). Though Hubbard lacks some of the sizzle of other pass rushers, he would be an excellent scheme fit with his versatility and would make a lot of sense at pick 31.

Dec 29, 2017; Arlington, TX, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes defensive end Sam Hubbard (6) in action against Southern California Trojans tackle Toa Lobendahn (50) in the 2017 Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Kemoko Turay, Rutgers 

A favorite of pass-rush expert John Owning, Turay brings more athleticism and spark to the table. Checking in at 6-foot-5, 252 pounds, he also fits the physical prototype for a Patriot edge defender. Oh, and did I mention he played at Rutgers?

Digging deeper into his personal background, it’s interesting to note that Turay and his family immigrated to the United States from Guinea when he was just three years old. He played just two years of high school football, and despite a 19-sack senior season, he received just two scholarship offers.

After redshirting his first year on campus, Turay made a big impact in 2014 with a team-leading 7.5 sacks along with three blocked kicks. Unfortunately, injuries limited him to just 11 games the next two years. Last fall, however, the ultra-talented pass rusher stayed healthy and racked up 65 tackles (seven for loss), four sacks and two fumble recoveries.

From a statistical standpoint, Turay does not stand out, but when you turn on the tape, his explosive first step, lateral range and ability to bend the edge certainly do. He’s exactly the type of long, quick-twitch athlete the Patriots desperately need to bolster an otherwise unexciting pass rush.

Though he is not a strong run defender like Hubbard, Turay is a more explosive, gifted athlete with rare traits. After putting together an excellent Senior Bowl week that included some dominant one-on-one reps, Turay’s stock is on the rise. New England could utilize one of its second-round picks to add a player whose best football is still ahead of him.

Dorance Armstrong, Kansas 

If you’re looking for a Jamie Collins type of athlete, Armstrong may be the guy. The 6-foot-4, 242-pounder is highly explosive with excellent closing speed. Again, for a team that lacks dynamic athletes up front, Armstrong is a picture-perfect upgrade over Eric Lee and James Harrison.

The Houston native signed with Kansas as a 3-star prospect, and he did not waste any time showing his next-level talent. Armstrong started five games as a true freshman, finishing the season with 23 tackles (five for loss) and 3.5 sacks.

As a sophomore, he exploded onto the scene with 56 tackles (20 for loss) and 10 sacks along with three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Those numbers helped Armstrong earn first-team All-Big 12 honors, but it also came at a price. As the lone blue-chip player on one of the worst defenses in the nation, Armstrong faced constant double-teams last fall while playing in a new scheme — his production dipped.

Despite the statistical drop-off, the athletic freak is still considered a solid Day 2 prospect. He is a smooth athlete with experience rushing from both a two- and three-point stance, which should make him intriguing for the Patriots. The definition of a toolsy player, Armstrong would be a great second-round target for the Patriots. However, if he excels at the combine as many project, he may go earlier than expected.

Stephen Sheehan is a displaced Boston diehard who graduated with his bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Florida in 2013. One of the original writers for FanRag Sports, Stephen returns after a two-year hiatus. His work has also been featured on Bleacher Report, Rugby Magazine, Foxboro Blog, The Independent Florida Alligator and Sun-Sentinel. The Connecticut native worked as a content editor for a Miami-based Internet marketing company before returning to The Swamp to earn his master's degree in sport management. Following his second walk across the stage, Stephen made his way back to South Florida and worked as an English/journalism teacher and football coach at Everglades High School. An avid rugby player since his days at UF, Stephen is currently working as a Youth Development Officer for the Freeport Rugby Football Club in the Bahamas. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @StephenPSheehan.

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