Akiem Hicks brings size, power to Patriots; can he adjust to new scheme?

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With the New England Patriots acquiring defensive lineman Akiem Hicks in a trade with the New Orleans Saints, I did an abbreviated film study to get a feel for Hicks.

The Saints' first two games -- a loss at Arizona and a home loss to Tampa Bay -- were watched. Here are some notes:

Physical makeup and top assets. Hicks' size stands out, as he's listed at 6-foot-5 and 324 pounds, so it wasn't hard to find No. 76 on the film. He is a grown man and with that size, it's no surprise that one of his best assets is power. Hicks' initial punch can be strong, as Cardinals right guard Jonathan Cooper can attest. I watched Hicks jar Cooper with that initial punch multiple times, drawing one holding penalty in the process. Hicks is also a better athlete than one might expect at his size, with quickness to win on an initial move, such as when he shot a gap against the Buccaneers as the left tackle was late with a reach block (12:17, second quarter). But power, more than quickness, is his game.

Where he aligns and how he's utilized. The Saints' scheme is different from the Patriots', so there is a projection with how Hicks will fit in New England. In terms of alignment, it was unusual to see a 324-pound player in Hicks on the offensive tackle's outside shoulder at times. He was sometimes head up on the tackle and guard, and also played plenty of 3-technique (outside shade on guard) on both sides. That flexibility is something Bill Belichick likely values based on all the different things the Patriots do defensively, but I'd expect Hicks to mostly play between the tackles in New England. One fun part of the film review was seeing Hicks against former Patriots left guard Logan Mankins in the Tampa game. Mankins tossed him around a bit. Overall, Hicks was penetrating on the majority of snaps I watched. There wasn't much two-gapping, which is a more deliberate technique he will likely be asked to do plenty of in New England. Thus, his success with the Patriots will be contingent on how he adjusts to that transition.

Play recognition in question. There were times when Hicks seemed to have some struggles locating the ball and/or stacking and shedding in the run game. Sometimes he would almost seem to take himself out of plays by playing too high and/or running out of gaps (e.g. one of his only tackles of the season came 10 yards down the field after he shot a gap and then chased the play, vs. Tampa). It's difficult to know how much of that is based on the Saints' scheme, so I'm curious to see how it looks when the Patriots ask him to play with more patience, lock out offensive linemen, and control them as a two-gapping defensive tackle. There were times Hicks did that (e.g. 10:40, first quarter, vs. Cardinals, minus-2 yard run), but it wasn't frequent.

Field-goal block team. Given his size and power, it's no surprise that Hicks played on the field-goal block unit, near the heart of the line of scrimmage. That's a role he can expect to fill in New England as well.

Summary. The 2015 tape wasn't very kind to Hicks, who was on the ground a lot and was easily blocked for a majority of snaps. But those who have watched Hicks closer, and others who have played with him, relay that he is unstoppable when he wants to be (e.g. 2013 season). Overall, I view this as a "traits" trade in the sense that Hicks' combination of size, power and age makes him a player worthy of working with to see if something clicks. Also, maybe the trade, change of scenery and pending free agency lights a fire in Hicks that sparks a greater performance than he showed early this season. Projecting how a defensive lineman will transition to a new scheme is tricky, as we learned two years ago with Isaac Sopoaga, who struggled in moving from more of a one-gapping 3-4 defense to the Patriots' two-gapping style of play. Hicks has much more upside than Sopoaga did, but I think the comparison is a good one because it highlights the unknown of projecting a player to a scheme/techniques that he hasn't consistently played.