When a team signs a free-agent -- any free-agent -- it often seems that the knee-jerk reaction to the deal is to compare that player to another free-agent signing from the past.
Along those lines, when the Patriots agreed to terms on a two-year deal with defensive Tommy Kelly on Monday, there was a parallel drawn in some circles between Kelly and Gerard Warren, another former Raider picked up by the Patriots in the latter stage of his career (both of those elements probably made the comparison an easy one to make).
But in reviewing the game tape of Kelly from the 2012 season, it's clear that the Patriots have acquired a much different type of player than Warren, and below is an introductory scouting report on how Kelly might fit in with his new team.
Alignment and athleticism. Kelly aligned predominantly as the Raiders' "3 technique" defensive tackle (which shades to the outside eye of a guard), although depending on pre-snap motion or the defensive line personnel in the game, he also shifted to the nose tackle position, shading to one side of the center. Although listed at 6-6 and 325 pounds, Kelly carries his weight very well and has good initial quickness from the snap. Kelly has very good length and an extended torso (more on that later), and has the lateral movement skills to loop around the end of the line on "games" with another defensive lineman. For an interior defensive lineman, Kelly has good closing burst to narrow the gap on a quarterback in the pocket, and although his sack production dipped in 2012, he still has enough disruption skills to be noticed on passing downs.
Skills. Kelly's combination of quickness and length make him an intriguing pass rusher. He can shoot a single gap to penetrate the line of scrimmage, although that's something the Patriots do less of than most teams, as it affects the discipline of their front seven. As a rusher, Kelly has elements of both a power pusher who uses his hands to walk an offensive lineman back as well as a "find a crease" rusher who can torque through crevices in traffic. As it relates to his power, Kelly has good in-line power, which reminds me of former Patriots defensive lineman Bobby Hamilton, who had good ability to work through an offensive lineman. Perhaps due to his long torso, Kelly has a tendency to expose his downfield shoulder. As an interior rusher, Kelly often works in areas where an uncovered guard or center is looking for a defender with such an exposed area to knock the defender off of his line. Staying square will be key to Kelly continuing to produce, and will also impact his run-defense skills. The Patriots' run defense starts with disciplined defensive linemen who can engage blockers and create space for their linebackers.
Role projection. There are a few notions to dispel about Kelly based on his 2012 film. He's not a player that is a shell of himself at age 32. His physical skills have dipped (as would any 32-year old's), but he has productive football left in him. On top of that, despite just 1.5 sacks last season, he can still generate pressure as a rusher, something that the Patriots lacked consistently from Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick last season. Kelly could be called upon to play alongside Wilfork in transition downs (i.e. run or passing downs such as second-and-6, third-and-2, even first-and-10), while Deaderick and Love may be more responsible for obvious run situations. The Patriots also could add more size in the draft, which makes Kelly's projected role fluid.
Overall assessment. Kelly shouldn't be viewed as an every-down defensive lineman who will play the majority of the Patriots' snaps, but he does offer value in that he brings more pass-rush skills to the table than either Love or Deaderick, an area the team has had to address this offseason. As a rotational defensive lineman who will be better against the pass than the run, Kelly is a solid pick-up from this view. We don't have the financial terms of his deal at this time, but those will provide more context to the signing. The Patriots defensive line was young outside of Wilfork last season, and Kelly is considered a reliable pro. He was a captain in Oakland and started every game over the past five seasons. One element that could be worth following on Kelly's signing is the potential for him to mentor Armond Armstead, whom the Patriots signed from the CFL this offseason. Armstead is regarded as a potential interior pass rusher, and having an example to follow may pay off.