Will Rookie Defensive Lineman Make an Immediate Impact for the Patriots?

Perry: Barmore could fill this important role on Pats' D-line originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Loaded. Up.

That's probably the simplest way to describe what the Patriots did this offseason to buttress the interior of their defensive line after an at-times dismal 2020 in the trenches on that side of the ball. But the majority of those pieces were added, it appears, in pursuit of a stouter run defense.

Going into the 2021 NFL Draft, there remained an opening for a long, explosive interior rusher who could cause problems in obvious passing situations. Enter: Christian Barmore. Bill Belichick traded away two fourth-round picks to shoot up to the top of the second round at No. 38 overall to take the Alabama star, and he did so for a reason.

Is it right to expect Barmore will make an immediate impact? Between Barmore's talent and the opportunity available within the Patriots defense, there's a path for the 6-foot-5, 310-pounder to do exactly that.

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Barmore confirmed he's a special talent late last season under Nick Saban. Despite being a relative newcomer to the sport with just a couple of years of high school football under his belt -- and an array of pass-rush moves he learned on YouTube from Reggie White -- it didn't take long for Barmore to solidify himself as perhaps the country's best defensive tackle.

In his second season as a collegian in 2020, he racked up eight sacks, four quarterback hits, 27 hurries and four pass breakups on 324 pass-rush snaps. He had a gift for getting after quarterbacks, and Saban recognized it, playing Barmore as a pass-rusher on more than two-thirds of his snaps last season.

After his 12 pressures in the College Football Playoff, against offensive lines loaded with NFL talent from Ohio State and Notre Dame, Barmore received buzz as a potential first-round pick.

When he slid, the Patriots got aggressive to scoop him up.

But after re-signing Lawrence Guy, returning Byron Cowart and Carl Davis, adding Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson and Montravius Adams via free agency, where would Barmore fit in?

Think... Adam Butler.

Barmore's skill set is unlike that of those other 300-pounders Belichick will use to two-gap and snuff out opposing running games. He's a penetrating player whose quickness, 35-inch arms and flexibility should allow him to find small openings in opposing pass-protection schemes and exploit them.

That's been Butler's role the last couple of years in Foxboro.

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After losing Butler to Miami in free agency this offseason, Barmore could take on the role Butler handled over the last several seasons as an interior rusher and give it some added juice. In four years in New England, Butler played over 1,000 more snaps as a pass rusher (1,472) than he did as a run defender (489).

Former assistant Bret Bielema dubbed Butler the point guard of the Patriots pass-rush back in 2019 because of his ability to run impactful twists and stunts with other pass-rushers, leading to "assists" on their sacks. Butler could absorb multiple blockers, oftentimes attacking at an angle, freeing up teammates and allowing them to finish.

"The assist only comes up in basketball where you have to give someone the ball to make the shot," Bielema said in 2019. "But if they counted assists in football, [Butler] does more things to draw the attention or create a blocking scheme that frees up another player repeatedly within our schemes, and that's a true testament to him.

"I'd say that a lot of the other defensive guys, they would probably tell you they want Adam lining up next to them as much as anybody because he creates that type of play for other people."

Even as a setup guy, Butler was in on 12 sacks himself over the last two seasons and generated more than one hurry per game, according to Pro Football Focus.

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Someone of Barmore's talent level fitting into a similar role early in his career could generate even more production. Barmore could be especially dangerous as the man in the middle of those Patriots third-down packages where there may be just one down lineman on the field surrounded by a handful of other rushers walking around near the line of scrimmage before the snap.

The misdirection and confusion created by the defense's alignment in those "amoeba" moments -- combined with a revamped pass-rush group that includes Barmore, Dont'a Hightower, Josh Uche, Matt Judon and Kyle Van Noy -- could lead to some splash moments for the rookie defensive tackle early in his pro career.

Of course, Barmore is still a developmental player in a sense. He'll turn 22 later this month. He was a redshirt sophomore last season. He saw just 747 snaps total in his career at Alabama before declaring for the draft. There's room there for him to grow. He should improve.

But given Barmore's skill set and the lack of other obvious choices to be the team's top interior rusher, don't be surprised if he's making plays for the Patriots sooner rather than later.

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