Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

Top front-seven prospects will be of extreme interest to Patriots

Ryan Hannable
March 03, 2018 - 1:06 pm

INDIANAPOLIS — One of the biggest issues for the Patriots last season was the lack of production from the front-seven.

After Rob Ninkovich retired, Derek Rivers got hurt and Kony Ealy was released all in the preseason, the Patriots were left with players like Eric Lee, who was signed off the Bills practice squad, and a 39-year-old James Harrison getting after the passer down the stretch of the season.

In addition, after losing Dont’a Hightower for the year in late October, role players like Marquis Flowers and Elandon Roberts were asked to play bigger roles.

Clearly, this is an area that needs to get better, faster and younger.

It would make sense for the Patriots to use at least one of their picks, and likely a high one at that, on a contributor in the front-seven.

These players will meet with the media on Saturday and then work out on Sunday. 

One of the biggest names is LSU defensive end Arden Key, although there are a few concerns.

In the spring of 2017 he took some time away from football for personal reasons and then didn’t start the first two games because of shoulder surgery. In all, he only started eight games and finished with 33 tackles, including 5.5 for loss, four sacks, and a forced fumble. On the field, he is considered one of the best pass rushers in the entire draft, but people come back to his discipline and concerns after he left the team for personal reasons and saw his weight balloon to close to 270 pounds.

If he falls to the Patriots at No. 31 overall, he may be worth taking a shot on, and the team hasn’t been afraid to take a chance on a prospect like him in the past. 

It’s also worth keeping an eye on Boston College product Harold Landry. If he’s available at No. 31, the Patriots could pull the trigger.

Although he was limited with an ankle injury this past season, he still put up solid numbers. In nine games he finished with 38 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, and two pass breakups. He’s one of the more athletic edge rushers in the draft and can line up standing in a 3-4 defense, or put his hand down and still be a disrupter.

Another potential target is Sam Hubbard from Ohio State. He has a natural connection to the Patriots as he intended on going to Notre Dame on a lacrosse scholarship until Urban Meyer came to his high school and got him to commit to OSU to play football.

Hubbard stood out more once Joey Bosa left for the NFL, as in the last two seasons he totaled 10 sacks. He isn’t athletic as some of the other players at the position, but makes up for it with how smart he is. He was a first-team Academic All-American as a sophomore (3.61 GPA in finance). Hubbard doesn't have the size as most Patriots edge rushers, but it's hard to ignore the lacrosse connection.

Lastly, and a player who is rising the rankings of late, is Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. 

Last season, Vander Esch totaled 141 tackles, four sacks, four passes broken up and four forced fumbles. At 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, he’s more of an inside linebacker, which could be beneficial to the Patriots as they could feel more comfortable moving Hightower to the edge. He was also a team captain, which is always a positive for the Patriots. One knock is he has just one year of starting experience, so there’s not much tape. But, from what we’ve seen he could be a great fit for the Patriots.

Even if the Patriots don't target one of these players, it's very likely they will be selecting a front-seven player with one of their top picks.