Lazar’s Combine Notebook: Defensive Line Prospects Put on a Show

The Patriots could have to rebuild their defensive line this offseason, and the 2019 draft is loaded with potential stars.

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INDIANAPOLIS — We’ve hit the home stretch at the NFL Scouting Combine with day three in the books.

On the field, the linebackers and defensive lineman put on an absolute show for scouts at Lucas Oil Stadium with some of the best athletic testing we’ve seen from the defensive front seven.

In the last 24 hours, the Patriots have met with more of the defensive line prospects after it sounded like they were keeping their distance, at least publicly, on Saturday.

The Patriots will have or had interviews with top prospects Jerry Tillery (Notre Dame), Dre’Mont Jones (Ohio State) and Gerald Willis (Miami) in Indianapolis.

We also saw some lesser known defensive line prospects make a name for themselves with great athletic testing on Sunday that we will get to later on, along with some confirmed meetings with a few of the top defensive backs in this year’s draft.

For one last time, here are some news and notes from another day at the combine in Indianapolis:

PATRIOTS HAVE MOST DRAFT CAPITAL FOR DEFENDING CHAMP IN OVER A DECADE

As we know, the Patriots have 12 picks in April’s draft (most in NFL), and six of those come in the first 101 picks.

According to a study done by Chase Stuart of Football Perspective, the Patriots have more draft capital than any other defending Super Bowl champion since… themselves in 2003.

The Patriots received four compensatory picks from the league as a result of losing free agents Malcolm Butler, Nate Solder, Dion Lewis and Danny Amendola last offseason.

After seeing the prospects work out this weekend, this is an excellent draft to invest in for New England.

PATRIOTS MET WITH THREE TOP SAFETY PROSPECTS AT COMBINE

On Sunday, we spoke to the defensive backs that will wrap things up here at the combine on Monday.

Among them were top safety prospects Taylor Rapp, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and Nasir Adderley who all confirmed formal combine interviews with the Patriots.

The Patriots have a long-term need at safety with Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung both entering their age 32 seasons, and McCourty contemplated retirement this offseason.

Rapp compared himself to Dolphins defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick as a physical presence in the secondary that can line up at multiple positions and played four different spots in college.

Gardner-Johnson, like Rapp, can play both safety and slot corner. The Florida product wasn’t on most people’s radars as a top prospect in this draft until the 2018 season when he made huge strides as a tackler and in man coverage. With a strong end to last season, if Gardner-Johnson performs well on Monday, he’ll start to get some first-round buzz.

Adderley is my early choice if the Patriots want to take a safety early in the draft. He’s one of the fastest players I watched on tape this past season and projects as a free safety and ace special teamer at the next level.

Adderley talked about the value of special teams and how much he loves playing different roles in the kicking game on Sunday. Any player that speaks this glowingly about special teams deserves our attention.

Unfortunately, the Delaware product won’t participate in the drills tomorrow due to a high ankle sprain.

COMBINE ON-FIELD WORKOUTS STANDOUTS ON THE DEFENSIVE LINE

At Lucas Oil Stadium, the defensive front seven took the field and put on an absolute show for scouts.

I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that this was the most athletic group of defensive linemen we’ve seen at the combine over the last two decades.

With that in mind, here are a few prospects that stood out to me in Sunday’s workout:

Clemson DT Dexter Lawrence

As we get closer and closer to the draft, my gut tells me that the Patriots would love to land Clemson nose tackle Dexter Lawrence at the end of the first round. Lawrence fits their prototype for either a traditional nose tackle role or in the A-Gap as more of a one-technique tackle. Think of the position that Malcom Brown has been in over the last four seasons. At 342 pounds, Lawrence ran the 40-yard dash in 5.05 seconds with a 1.76-second ten-yard split. That’s incredibly fast for a man of that size and was the second-fastest time for a player that weighs over 340 pounds at the combine since 2003. If Lawrence lasts until the end of the first round, don’t be surprised if he’s in a Patriots uniform next season.

Michigan DE Chase Winovich

Winovich has been on my radar for the Patriots since the fall. He’s fundamentally sound, plays with a high motor and was a multi-year starter for the Wolverines producing 18.5 sacks and 43.0 tackles for loss. Winovich backed that up with a terrific combine performance, finishing fifth in the 40-yard dash (4.59, 1.57 ten-yard split) and third in the three-cone drill (6.94 seconds). There were concerns on tape with Winovich’s athleticism that turned out to be very wrong. He seems like a perfect fit for New England on day two.

TCU EDGE Ben Banogu

Banogu is one of those guys that I’ll have to revisit after the combine. On my initial viewing, his tape was underwhelming, and Banogu himself admitted that he’s still learning the intricacies of the position. Banogu told me that he hasn’t fully developed a pass rush plan, and that shows on film. Furthermore, the TCU scheme mostly asked Banogu to set the edge, which is unfortunate for his draft stock but fits the Patriots’ system. Along with that, Banogu added that he did, however, play in multiple fronts and even dropped a bit in coverage. At the combine, Banogu tested extremely well posting elite numbers in the 40-yard dash (4.62) and agility drills (7.02 three-cone). Banogu is a raw prospect, but he has the tools to develop into a successful edge player in the Patriots defense.

UCF DT Trysten Hill

Hill wasn’t on my radar before the combine, but he’ll be one of the first players I watch after the event. The UCF product was extremely impressive on Sunday flashing movement skills that are rare for a 300-plus pounder. Hill looked fluid with loose hips and easy change of direction in the drill portion of his workout. In the 40-yard dash, Hill came in at 5.04 seconds with a 1.74 ten-yard split. Hill backed up that explosiveness by jumping 115.0 inches in the broad jump. Last season, UFC’s new coaching staff inexplicably took Hill out of the starting lineup. Despite that, he still racked up three sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss.

We also know how much the Patriots love the three-cone drill with pass rushers, so here’s the top ten at the position:

COMBINE ON-FIELD WORKOUTS STANDOUTS AT LINEBACKER

Before we get into some standouts let me say this, I’m done discussing athletic freaks at the linebacker position for the Patriots.

Until they draft someone that tears up the combine besides Jamie Collins, I’m not wasting my time. That simple.

This class is filled with run-and-chase guys that lit up the 40-yard dash and agility drills with their athleticism, but most are jacked up safeties rather than the thumping linebackers the Patriots usually target.

And to make matters worse, some of the intriguing options for the Pats sat out portions of Sunday’s workout or did not participate entirely.

With that in mind, here are some names to know from a Patriots perspective:

NOTRE DAME LB TE’VON CONEY

Coney didn’t participate in the athletic testing, but he did do some on-field drills and looked good dropping into coverage which was a perceived weakness. Coney is your prototypical Patriots linebacker. The Notre Dame product is 235-pound thumper that has excellent instincts and power in the running game. When you turn on his tape, he takes on blockers regularly and works his way through traffic to make tackles on ball carriers. Over the last two seasons, Coney accumulated 239 total tackles for the Fighting Irish. Coney fits right in with Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley and Elandon Roberts.

ALABAMA LB MACK WILSON

Wilson only participated in the jumps at the combine, but out of this linebacker class, he’s one of the few guys that fits the Patriots mold. Wilson had a rough CFB playoff this past season where both Oklahoma and Clemson’s offense exposed him. However, he would give the Patriots a nice mix of a thumper mentality with some functional athleticism to play in coverage and run down ball carriers. He also projects as a potential core special teamer. In the jumps, Wilson put up an above-average broad jump (117 inches), although his vertical was subpar (32 inches). There are also rumors that Nick Saban advised Wilson to stay in school. If that’s the case, Saban could tell Belichick to stay away.

PATRIOTS MEET WITH TEMPLE CORNERBACK ROCK YA-SIN

Temple cornerback Rock Ya-Sin got on my radar with a terrific week at the Senior Bowl.

Ya-Sin described himself as a press-man corner that wins with physicality and toughness, traits that the Patriots look for in their cornerbacks.

Although the Patriots are loaded at the position, Ya-Sin drew comparisons to Eric Rowe, who spent the last two seasons with New England, and was mocked to the Pats by a few experts.

At Temple, Ya-Sin wore the number eight, which means he was voted on by his teammates and coaches as one of the nine toughest players on the roster. In the video above, Ya-Sin explains the significance of wearing a single-digit number at Temple and what it meant to him to receive that honor from his team.

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