Camp Preview: New England Patriots’ D-line is NFL’s biggest boom or bust candidate

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If you look up the definition of “boom or bust” in the dictionary, there is a picture of the New England Patriots’ defensive line smiling nervously right beside it.

It’s really quite impressive just how drastically different this group’s possible outcomes are. On one hand, you have decades worth of experience from talented players up and down the roster, along with several up-and-coming talents ready to make their mark. On the other hand, you could almost throw out an entire starting lineup of players over the age of 30 coming off of serious, season-ending injuries.

In a perfect world, a starting group of Chandler Jones, Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly and Rob Ninkovich, with former pro-bowler Will Smith and first-round selection Dominique Easley coming off the bench, sounds like a devastating front line. But, unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world.

Wilfork, Kelly and Smith are all coming off season-ending injuries, ranging from ruptured Achilles to ACL tears, and as they are all heading into their mid-30s, those injuries look all the more severe. Likewise, Dominique Easley, who has the talent to be a perennial pro-bowler, has already suffered two ACL injuries in college, making his durability in the NFL a serious question mark.

If, somehow, this corps group can remain healthy, and if, somehow, these aging veterans can return to 80 percent of what they were before their injuries, then there is a real chance the Patriots could role out one of the most intimidating defensive lines in the NFL.

But if even just one or two things break the wrong way, the Patriots could be in major trouble. Last season, Jones (1,124) and Ninkovich (1,096) ranked first and second in the entire NFL in terms of snaps amongst defensive lineman. While that’s a testament to their durability, it, more importantly, shows how absolutely vital they are to the Patriots defense. If they, or any one else on the line, are lost for any amount of time, this group would quickly begin to disintegrate before our eyes.

As of right now, there really isn’t much more to say. You can’t predict injuries, and we can’t yet determine how healthy all of these players are after their recoveries.

The Pats are definitely in a good position. Now, we just have to hope for the best.

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Follow Michael Jaycox at @MilkyMike


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