The addition of Alan Branch to the Patriots defensive line in 2014 helped bolster the teams run defense in what turned out to be a championship season. Branch played a huge role, pun intended, in the stout run defense that ranked ninth in yards against but most importantly, ranked second in rushing touchdowns allowed. This past year, Branch’s role was diminished significantly and his run with the Patriots ended with an inactive designation in Super Bowl LII. The team released him this past week.
Now, the Patriots look to have found Branch’s younger replacement. According to ESPN’s Field Yates, the Patriots have acquired former 2015 first-round pick, defensive lineman Danny Shelton, from the Cleveland Browns. The six-foot-two, 343-pound lineman will slide into a spot next to the 32nd pick of the 2015 draft, Malcom Brown. This gives the Patriots a formidable duo in the middle of the defensive line. The two 2015 first rounders combine to weigh 652 pounds.
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Speed is not Shelton’s strong suit and presumably fell out of favor in the Gregg Williams attack defense. Shelton’s snap percentage fell below 50 percent last season. For the Patriots, they desperately missed the production of 2014-16 Branch down the stretch and in the Super Bowl. Adding Shelton immediately gives them a stout middle of the line that should excel against the run.
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The move shouldn’t surprise people who follow the Patriots. Reportedly, they were in on former Seahawk, Michael Bennett. Ultimately, they lost out to the Eagles, despite offering a better package to the Seahawks. With the trade, the Patriots now have a solid amount of depth at the defensive tackle position. Shelton and the aforementioned Malcolm Brown comprise half the depth. The other half being Vincent Valentine and Lawrence Guy.
The Patriots, presumably, are not finished. The Patriots defense will need the bulk of the attention in free agency and the draft. In addition to adding more talent to the defensive line, the team still needs to address the secondary. Free agency begins Wednesday at 4 pm EST.