2017 Patriots Training Camp Position Battles: Defensive End


In part two of my five-part New England Patriots training camp battle previews, I break down the possibilities at defensive end after Trey Flowers.

On Friday, I previewed the No. 3 wide receiver battle that will take place in Patriots training camp. The second battle I want to look at is the starting defensive end position opposite Trey Flowers.

Flowers broke out with a huge year in 2016, and he’s surely going to be a starter on the defensive line this season. After him though, it is a bit of an unknown with Kony Ealy, Derek Rivers, Geneo Grissom, and Deatrich Wise. Aside from Grissom, each of those players is brand new to the Patriots and their system.

Ealy was acquired via a trade with the Carolina Panthers, while Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise were selected in this year’s NFL Draft. At just 25, Kony Ealy is the veteran of the bunch with three NFL seasons under his belt. This is going to be a tough, fun battle to watch throughout Patriots training camp and through a number of preseason games.

Kony Ealy

2016 Regular Season: 16 Games, 19 Tackles, 5.0 Sacks, 2 Forced Fumbles

Kony Ealy was brought in by the Patriots as they moved down just 8 draft spots with the Panthers. This is almost a can’t lose situation with Ealy since they didn’t have to give up practically anything to bring him to Foxboro.

The explosive pass rusher is best known for his 3 sack Super Bowl 50 performance against the Denver Broncos, but he seems to have fallen out of favor with the Carolina coaches. A change of scenery and the leadership from Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia could help Ealy revitalize his still young career. At just 25, Ealy could still potentially develop into a great NFL defensive lineman. I expect him to have one of the strongest camps of any player on the roster.

Derek Rivers

2016 College Season: 16 Games, 44 Tackles, 14 Sacks, 1 Forced Fumble, 3 Fumble Recoveries

Derek Rivers was the New England Patriots’ first selection in the latest NFL Draft out of Youngstown State. Playing at a smaller school, Rivers had outrageous numbers with 14 sacks last season. He will need to adjust to the speed of the NFL game, but I believe he has the talent to do so.

By the end of the season Rivers could be starting for the Patriots, but I don’t think he gets the starts early on. He has plenty of room and time to grow and develop, and the Patriots will surely take their time to groom their next big pass rusher.

Geneo Grissom

2016 Regular Season: 11 Games, 0 Tackles

Geneo Grissom will enter his third season with the New England Patriots in 2017, and some think he may even be cut in camp. Grissom has been unable to adjust to the NFL game and he hasn’t logged a single start in his career. He also has just one sack over his first two seasons with the team.

Grissom was taken in the same draft as Trey Flowers, but he hasn’t made the same jump. The New England staff will have to see tremendous improvement if Grissom wants to make the team, let alone land a starting position.

Deatrich Wise

2016 College Season: 12 Games, 49 Tackles, 3.5 Sacks, 1 Forced Fumble

Deatrich Wise played SEC football at Arkansas so adjusting to the speed of the NFL game should not be too difficult. Wise will surely see time in the defensive end rotation, and he could surprise me with his production, but I think there are a couple of guys ahead of him right now.

Wise will have a few sacks and should be able to showcase his talents this preseason, and he could jam his way into being the first DE off of the bench each game.

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My pick to start at defensive end

For now, I believe the choice is clear and that Kony Ealy will be a starter to begin the season. As I stated above though, I think that rookie Derek Rivers can steal some starts as the season goes on.

The defensive end position is fluid, and each man named above will be a part of the rotation in some way. New England was solid on defense last season, so even just a slight improvement should make them top-tier in 2017. While the focus is on Tom Brady, Brandin Cooks, and the Patriots offense, opponents will be in for quite a surprise with this New England defense.

Next: Training Camp Battle: No. 3 Wide Receiver

The Patriots have the chance to win another Super Bowl this season, and although TB12 can win on his own, having a great defense to back him up is always helpful. Training camp and the preseason is a time when this defense can establish themselves among the league’s best, and this starting defensive end is going to play a huge role in that.