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New England Patriots Should Draft Dexter Lawrence

The New England Patriots enter the 2019 NFL Draft with a need along their defensive line, and Dexter Lawrence would be a perfect fit along the Patriots line
Dexter Lawrence

The New England Patriots have a staggering 12 picks in the 2019 NFL Draft and have a chance to shore up just about every hole on their roster. One of New England’s biggest issues over recent years has been an inability to stop runs up the middle. While the team figured it out during the postseason, that problem could re-surface in 2019. Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton are set to hit the open market, and it’s unlikely New England re-signs both players. Fortunately, the 2019 NFL Draft is filled to the brim with talent along the defensive line, and the Patriots should invest one of their second-round picks in defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence.

Dexter Lawrence is A Fit With New England Patriots

New England’s Current Situation

The Patriots spent the 2018 season with a defensive tackle rotation consisting of Lawrence Guy, Malcom Brown, Danny Shelton, and Adam Butler. Guy was fantastic and should be New England’s top defensive tackle heading into 2019. He’s a well-rounded player, finishing the season as the 10th-ranked defensive tackle in football, per Pro Football Focus. The other three names on the depth chart, however, have some serious questions.

Shelton and Brown are both free agents, but both players have some pretty clear weaknesses. Shelton is a monster of a man at 6’2”, 345 pounds. He’s decent at eating up space but ultimately brings nothing as a pass rusher. In today’s pass-happy NFL, a player like Shelton is essentially worthless against a team like the Kansas City Chiefs. Shelton was a healthy scratch late in the season against high-powered offenses and is only a two-down player. Brown, meanwhile, is the definition of mediocre. He’s a decent three-tech defensive lineman but gets overpowered any time he’s asked to align as a nose tackle. Bill Belichick values versatility more than anything else, and Brown’s limited skill set actively stops new England from using certain defensive fronts.

Adam Butler looks great whenever he’s on the field, but he probably doesn’t have the frame to be a 16-game starter. At 6’4”, 300 pounds, Butler is a good situational pass rusher who can play the run in small doses. That said, he was only the third man in the defensive tackle rotation and gets overpowered by bigger lineman in the run game. He’s a fantastic weapon to have, but he’s probably best used in a rotational role.

How Dexter Lawrence Fits New England

Checking in at 6’4” and 340 pounds, Lawrence is gigantic even by NFL standards. Lawrence is at his best in the run game, as his massive frame engulfs rushing lanes and his fantastic handwork allows him to shed blockers and make tackles. While he’s not an elite pass rusher by any means, he’s capable of pushing back interior lineman and collapsing the pocket. He doesn’t always record the sack, but he makes the quarterback uncomfortable and often frees up space for his fellow defenders to make plays.

Lawrence finished his 2018 season as one of the best run defenders in all of college football. The Clemson alumni recorded 36 tackles in 15 games, including 7.5 tackles-for-loss. While he only recorded 1.5 sacks on the season, he managed to compile 6.5 as a freshman. He won’t get many sacks in the NFL, but he should effectively collapse and disrupt the pocket.

Per Sharp Football Stats, New England allowed 5.4 yards-per-carry and 4.7 yards-per-carry on runs behind the right and left guard, respectively. It’s no secret that New England needs help along the interior line, especially with Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton hitting free agency. Lawrence is a perfect fit for the Patriots, the only question is where to get him.

Where to Draft Lawrence

Anyone who follows the New England Patriots knows that Bill Belichick drafts the best player available instead of going by need. If a player is good and fills a need, Belichick will select him, but he won’t draft a third-round talent in the second round just to fill a need. Fortunately for the Patriots, Lawrence should be available for a cost which suits Belichick.

Currently, most mock drafts predict Lawrence to be a second-round pick. He’s great in the run game, but his work in the pass game keeps him from being an elite prospect. Additionally, this is a deep defensive line class, so Lawrence won’t be overdrafted based on a lack of ability at the position.

Barring a trade, the New England Patriots will enter the 2019 NFL Draft with two second-round selections, and Lawrence should be available for at least one of those picks. He’ll be a great value right there, as he’s exactly the type of defensive tackle Belichick loves. Lawrence is a huge body in the interior, and Belichick has always preferred larger defensive tackles. Additionally, Belichick has never required his interior defensive linemen to accumulate sacks. Patriots legend Vince Wilfork finished his career with 16 sacks, never recording more than 3.5 in a given season.

This isn’t to say Lawrence will be as good as Wilfork – he probably won’t. This is just to say that Lawrence is more-or-less everything Belichick looks for in a defensive tackle. If he’s still sitting there when New England’s picking in the second, Belichick should be interested. He fits a need and should be one of the best players left for New England’s system. If the Patriots select Lawrence, they’ll immediately shore up one of their biggest weaknesses heading into 2019.

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