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POSITIONAL ANALYSIS: DEFENSIVE LINE

An area the Patriots are not in need of immediate help at? Defensive line. But there is the future.

Christian Barmore finished the 2023 season with 8.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, and 16 quarterback hits.Danielle Parhizkaran/Globe Staff

The defensive line was the best and most consistent positional grouping on either side of the ball for the Patriots in 2023.

Working in conjunction with edge rushers like Matthew Judon and second-level defenders like Mack Wilson and Jahlani Tavai, linemen did an excellent job of handling their business over the course of a tumultuous season. Christian Barmore emerged as a legitimate Pro Bowl candidate, a three-down talent who was equally adept at playing the run and pass. Davon Godchaux anchored a run defense that was among the best in the league for a sizable portion of the season. As a rookie, Keion White brought some serious thunder at defensive end, while Deatrich Wise Jr. and Lawrence Guy Jr. proved to be solid complementary pieces of the puzzle.

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As a group, the defensive line was most effective at stopping the run. The Patriots were best in the league in terms of yards allowed per rushing attempt at 3.3. (Godchaux would regularly seek out reporters after games to ask how many yards per carry they had allowed.) They yielded 1,584 rushing yards on the season — only three teams had lower totals. In the end, the linemen weren’t the only reason why the run defense was so competitive, but it wasn’t a coincidence.

Bottom line? The Patriots will likely draft with an eye on the future, as Godchaux, Barmore, Wise, and Guy are heading into the last year of their current deals. (An extension for Barmore could come sooner rather than later, which would be a nice reward for an excellent season and a way to free up more cash under the cap.) But of all the areas of need this team needs to address this offseason, the defensive line is at or near the bottom of the list of priorities.

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Currently on the roster: Keion White (1 sack, 3 tackles for loss), Christian Barmore (8.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, 16 quarterback hits), Davon Godchaux (24 solo tackles), Lawrence Guy Sr. (16 solo tackles), Jeremiah Pharms Jr., Sam Roberts, Deatrich Wise Jr. (4.5 sacks, 6 quarterback hits), Trysten Hill (practice squad).

Notable free agents (pending franchise tag assignments)

Chris Jones is the best of the bunch, but he’s likely either going to return to the Chiefs or demand what might be the top contract on the market. A premier interior pass rusher, he’s a disruptive presence who can change the game by himself. Justin Madubuike will reportedly get the franchise tag from the Ravens, who would like to be able to ultimately work something out long term with the 26-year-old who landed Defensive Player of the Year votes.

Chris Jones got to NFL MVP Lamar Jackson when the Chiefs beat the Ravens in the AFC Championship game.Terrance Williams/Associated Press

If this were 10 years ago, Calais Campbell or Fletcher Cox would have been a typical Bill Belichick free agent add — the well-respected thirtysomething veteran with just enough left in the tank looking for one last Super Bowl run. (See Tommy Kelly, Andre Carter, etc.) Alas, it’s a different era.

Tier One: Jones (10.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, 29 quarterback hits), Madubuike (13 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, 33 quarterback hits), Christian Wilkins (nine sacks, 10 tackles for loss, 23 quarterback hits).

Tier Two: Leonard Williams (5.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, 16 quarterback hits), D.J. Reader (20 solo tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 7 quarterback hits), Sheldon Rankins (6 sacks, 29 solo tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 10 quarterback hits), Cox (5 sacks, 17 quarterback hits), Campbell (6.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, 17 quarterback hits).

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Draft possibilities

Given their needs and existing depth, it seems unlikely the Patriots would be in the market for any of the top defensive line talent in this year’s draft. But there are two Day 2 possibilities to consider in Kris Jenkins from Michigan and T’Vondre Sweat from Texas.

Kris Jenkins's college career at Michigan ended in a championship.Stacy Revere/Getty

Jenkins (6 foot, 3inches, 305 pounds) was one of the best parts of a very good Michigan defense last season. (The Wolverines finished No. 5 nationally in rush defense and No. 1 in total defense.) He has the genes — his father is former Jets defensive lineman Kris Jenkins — and finished the season with 37 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks.

At his best, Sweat (6-4, 362) occasionally resembles a taller version of Vince Wilfork. He’s a massive nose tackle type who can clog the middle with the best of them, all while getting some pass rush up the middle while regularly engaging with double teams (8 tackles for loss, 2 sacks last season).

Day One: Jer’Zhan Newton (Illinois), Darius Robinson (Missouri), Byron Murphy (Texas).

Day Two: Sweat (Texas), Jenkins (Michigan), Leonard Taylor II (Miami), Michael Hall (Ohio State).


Christopher Price can be reached at christopher.price@globe.com. Follow him @cpriceglobe.