The drought is finally nearing its end! The NFL offseason is coming to a close, with training camps starting later in July. The New England Patriots will hold their first practice on July 26th and their first preseason game on August 9th. In the meantime, I will be marching on with my breakdown of the 2018 Patriots roster as we head into training camp. Having finished with the offense last week, I will be starting the defense this week by looking at the defensive tackle room.
Long Shots (2): John Atkins, Frank Herron
The Patriots’ defensive tackle group was a mixed bag last year. Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, and Vincent Valentine were returning off solid 2016 campaigns. Plus the additions of Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler were expected to keep the rotation fresh and productive throughout season. Unfortunately, that did not prove to be the case. Valentine landed on the injured reserve with a knee injury without ever seeing the field. Branch had a down year plagued by injuries and poor play before eventually being replaced on the game day roster by veteran Ricky Jean Francois. Butler was primarily used as a situational pass rusher, but was only able to tally two sacks on the year. On the positive side, both Brown and Guy proved to be stout run defenders in the middle of the defense. However, the Patriots entered the offseason needing an upgrade at the position.
Enter Danny Shelton. The Patriots traded a third round pick to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for Shelton and a fifth round pick back in March, as a replacement for Alan Branch. Shelton projects to be a key cog in the defensive tackle rotation this year and will likely be the starting nose tackle in the Patriots ‘Bear’ front. Brown, Guy, and Francois did a solid job at the end of the last year, but having Shelton’s 335-pound frame in the middle of the defense will help the Patriots control the line of scrimmage more efficiently. Brown and Guy are also locks to make the roster, with Brown needing to have a good year so that he can get a lucrative contract next March.
The Patriots carried just three defensive tackles in 2016, but ended the season with five, so it is hard to tell how many they will carry time around. They may opt to just carry Brown, Guy and Shelton, but could also conceivably roster Butler and Valentine too. Either way, Butler and Valentine are likely fighting for spots at this point, but at least one of them will probably make the cut. John Atkins and Frank Herron are long shots to make the roster at this point, but they are fighting for practice squad spots.
Roster (5): Malcom Brown, Adam Butler, Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton, Vincent Valentine
Cut (2): John Atkins, Frank Herron
Stay tuned next week as I discuss the defensive end group!