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The biggest free-agent signing for the Patriots defensive line came in the form of Davon Godchaux, a towering interior defender with nose tackle potential. When on the field, he should be more of a factor for the Patriots on early downs against the run than almost anyone on the roster was in 2020.
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But the question for Godchaux, who signed with the Patriots for two years and up to $15 million, is health. He’s coming off a season in which he only played five games, and struggled to regain a spot on the active roster late in the 2020 season for the Dolphins. So he has people to prove wrong in New England. He does sound like he has the right kind of “Do Your Job” mentality that Bill Belichick would want in a guy manning the middle of the defensive line.
“I just feel like doing your job is all a part of being yourself,” Godchaux said in his introductory press conference in March. “Make plays, but be yourself and do your job in that scheme. Don’t try to make plays outside of what you’re assigned to do. I feel like once you do that, it makes it a lot easier.”
The Patriots also signed former Jets defensive lineman Henry Anderson, but for less than half the money they committed to Godchaux. Anderson should be a solid edge-setter, though, which would correct a problem the Patriots have had up front since losing Trey Flowers two years ago. But Godchaux is clearly the one D-lineman expected to give the unit an immediate adrenaline shot.
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Rookie Wild Card
The aforementioned “promising rookie” is, of course, former Alabama defensive tackle Christian Barmore. The clear No. 1 prospect at the position in the 2021 NFL Draft, Barmore became a Patriot after the team traded up to the 38th pick to snag him.
It’s rare for rookies to make an immediate impact in New England, especially on defense. But Barmore has a real opportunity in front of him to, at the very least, see the field on third down and in obvious passing situations. He likely needs time to develop and round out his game as he gains professional experience, but his raw explosiveness could make him a factor as a pass-rusher in year 1.
If Barmore doesn’t pop as a rookie, then the pass-rushing talent on the defensive line is a particular question mark. It could be an area where the Patriots have to rely on scheme, and on their veterans to execute it.
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Belichick’s spending spree on the front-seven prompted questions of whether Lawrence Guy would return. But after a brief time as a free agent, Guy ultimately re-signed with the Patriots for four years and up to $11.5 million. The 31-year-old now appears likely to play out the rest of his career in New England.
Guy was as steady and dependable as anyone on the Patriots roster from 2017-2020. He played in 62 of a possible 64 games, starting 60 of them. In 2020, he recorded 57 tackles, four tackles for loss, seven quarterback hits, and two sacks in 14 games.
With a significantly improved roster around him on both the defensive line and at linebacker, Guy should actually have more space opened up for him. But against the run, anyway, Guy should continue to be a stout presence. And if Godchaux and Anderson are healthy and flanking him, Guy will be in even more of a position to succeed.
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Of the Patriots’ long-term signings in 2021, Deatrich Wise was arguably the most surprising. A four-year extension for as much as $22 million didn’t seem likely after 2020. But Wise has steadily risen as a leader in the Patriots’ locker room, and remains among their most credited players for how hard he works and the example he sets.
The problem with Wise hasn’t necessarily been his fault. He’s always been more of a fit for a 4-3 defense, and his attempt to transition into more of a 3-4 defensive end role over the past two seasons hasn’t translated to great success. But now that Wise won’t necessarily have to play every down or set the edge against the run, Belichick can pick his spots and put him on the field in situations where he can get to the quarterback.
Along with Guy, Wise is now the Patriots’ longest-tenured defensive lineman. And with his new deal locked in, he’s a candidate to become a team captain for the first time, too.
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At the end of the defensive line depth chart, there’s a mixed bag of free agents, journeymen, and kids. Byron Cowart is entering his third season, coming off a 2020 campaign in which he started 14 games and recorded a sack, three QB hits, and a batted pass. Cowart has made steady progress after being drafted as a fifth-round pick in 2019 and should have a good chance to stick around.
There’s legitimate competition, though. Veteran Carl Davis, who joined the Pats midway through the 2020 season, made immediate headway on the roster before injuries derailed him. He re-signed with the Patriots in March and should push for a roster spot. The Patriots also signed former Packers defensive end Montravius Adams, a more unheralded signing than Godchaux or Anderson.
A group of young practice squad candidates remain from 2020, including Nick Thurman, Tashawn Bower, Akeem Spence, and Bill Murray. But with the reinforcements in the fold, it’ll be hard for any of them to elevate to the main roster this time around.
Projected Depth Chart: Patriots Defensive Line
1. Deatrich Wise
2. Henry Anderson
3. Montravius Adams
4. Tashawn Bower
5. Nick Thurman
1. Lawrence Guy
2. Davon Godchaux
3. Byron Cowart
4. Christian Barmore
5. Carl Davis
6. Akeem Spence
7. Bill Murray
The Patriots are still likely to operate out of a 3-4 base, if not a 3-3-5 “Nickel” set. Either way, they’re looking at three down linemen, which explains the greater depth on the interior.
While the pass-rushing in this group will enter the season as a concern, the run defense should be vastly improved over 2020, which would make life a lot easier for the defense as a whole.