The countdown to camp with positional excerpts from my season preview book continues today with the defensive tackles.
One of the most underrated groups on the roster, Alan Branch, Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine did a fantastic job controlling the heart of the offensive line and winning the battles in the trenches in 2016. The result was the best-ranked run defense (4th in Football Outsiders DVOA) ever under Belichick.
This is even more of an accomplishment when you consider the Patriots now use two defensive linemen to do what three used to do.
Branch might’ve been the defensive MVP for a large chunk of the season. The huge veteran often lined up at nose tackle and was near unmoveable. While Brown doesn’t have much flash to his game, but he’s an athletic technician who always seems to be in the right spot. He should start to get even more notice in his third year.
Together, Brown and Branch gave the Patriots everything they could expect from two stout tackles tasked with occupying multiple blockers and controlling the line of scrimmage.
Valentine did an outstanding job filling in at times for Branch and Brown and should take more strides in his second season. His goal line stop in the AFC Championship (see GIF) was the highlight of his season and a play to build on.
While the starting trio returns intact, free agent signee Lawrence Guy is one of then most intriguing new players who is below many radars. Guy’s interior pass rush skills should be a huge asset while his role on early downs is something to watch.
Let’s take a closer look at all the defensive tackles!