Patriots Rookie Profile: Defensive End Derek Rivers

By Brent Schwartz, CBS Boston Sports

BOSTON (CBS) — Due to their trades for Brandin Cooks and Kony Ealy, the Patriots left themselves without first and second-round picks in the 2017 NFL Draft. But that doesn’t mean they punted the draft altogether.

In hopes of bolstering their relatively thin defensive line, the team’s first draft selection was Youngstown State defensive end Derek Rivers in the third round, 83rd overall. Rivers does have some New England ties; he attended high school in Kinston, North Carolina, but was born in Augusta, Maine and his mother Mary attended Northeastern University in Boston. He told the Boston Globe’s Jim McBride that his mom’s side of the family is filled with “huge Patriots fans.”

College Career

The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Rivers put together a stellar career as a defensive end at Youngstown State in Ohio, anchoring one of the FCS’s premier defenses in 2016. Rivers helped guide the Penguins to the FCS National Championship, where they lost to James Madison University, 24-14. Here’s what else to know about Rivers’ college career:

– Owns the school record for most career sacks, with 41 (Top 5 in FCS History)
– Garnered 119 tackles, 56.5 for a loss
– Two-time FCS All-American
– Three-time First-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection

NFL Combine Results

– 40-yard dash: 4.61 seconds
– Bench press (225 pounds): 30 reps
– Vertical jump: 35 inches
– 3-cone drill: 6.94 seconds

Strengths and Weaknesses

According to his NFL.com Draft Profile, Rivers is an explosive pass rusher that plays consistently from snap to snap. Rivers has a good burst and is able to reach a second gear to overpower or move around blockers.

Of course, overpowering NFL offensive tackles is another world compared to the competition Rivers was accustomed to at Youngstown State. Even at his size, Rivers may lack the length to get by bigger, longer blockers. He’ll need to develop his pass-rushing skills to consistently generate pressure at the pro level.

What to expect from Rivers with the Patriots?

Since trading away defensive end Chandler Jones last offseason and linebacker Jamie Collins during the 2016 season, the Patriots had been relying on young defensive end Trey Flowers, veterans Chris Long and Rob Ninkovich, and linebacker Dont’a Hightower to pick up the slack.

With the way Flowers emerged as the team’s premier pass rushing threat, it’s plausible to assume the 23-year-old will continue to improve. With Long now on the Eagles (Rivers will wear his No. 95), and Ninkovich now at age 33, the Patriots are looking for a young, talented rusher to pair with Flowers. Rivers could battle Ealy for that role.

“His technique, he’s one of the best,” Rivers said of Flowers to ESPN’s Mike Reiss last week. “I watch everything, how he defends the run, just how precise his hands are, how accurate they are in the pass rush, how he gets his hips around – every little thing that helps you get to the QB or make plays.”

But with his size, he may play more of a linebacker-defensive end hybrid role, like Ninkovich. Rivers’ versatility gives Bill Belichick the option to line Rivers up at different positions. According to his Draft profile, Rivers is best suited as a stand-up rusher in a 3-4 scheme.

Ultimately, as the Patriots’ top pick, Rivers will very likely make the team in year one, and will have a chance to earn a healthy amount of playing time in 2017.

Check out all of Brent Schwartz’s Patriots Rookie Profiles each week leading up to the start of the 2017 season!

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