With the 96th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots select Vince Valentine, DT, Nebraska:
Valentine grew up in Edwardsville, Illinois and went to the local high school as well, where he had great success during his time there as a three year starter. He had 29 tackles, two sacks, and a fumble recovery his sophomore season. He had 33 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery in his junior year. In his best season statistically, Valentine had 35 tackles (including 11 for a loss) and three sacks as a senior.
He was named second-team all state, all class by the Chicago Tribune, first class Class 7A all-state performer by the Illinois High School Coaches Association and was named a first team All-Southwestern Conference player for his last two years. Valentine was heavily coveted by colleges, including offers from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kansas State, Miami (FL), Michigan, Michigan State, Missouri, Northern Illinois, Northwestern, Oklahoma, Penn State, Purdue, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. He eventually chose to attend Nebraska despite his numerous scholarship offers.
In his first season for Nebraska, he was redshirted. But as a redshirt freshman in 2013, he played in all 13 games while starting in six of them. Valentine racked up 21 tackles, five tackles for a loss, and one sack. He was a honorable mention for the Big Ten's all-freshman team. In his sophomore season, Valentine again played in all 13 games while starting 11 of them. He racked up 45 tackles, seven of those for a loss, three sacks, and one forced fumble. Valentine had at least four tackles in six of of those games.
Nebraska also ranked highest among the nation in pass defense and third-down defense, thanks in no small part to Valentine's contributions on the field. Injuries in 2015 led Valentine to playing 10 games while only seven starts. He compiled ten tackles, but four of those were for a loss along with three sacks. Again, Valentine's contributions on the field helped Nebraska finish in the top ten in run defense. He's dealt with injuries and conditioning issues, but flashed a ton of potential when on the field playing nose or defensive tackle. "Vince" declared in 2016 despite having one more year of eligibility left but was able to graduate with his Bachelors Degree in Sociology.
After being drafted in the third round by the Patriots, Valentine will come into camp with questions about his work ethic and conditioning. But with the diligent coaching staff in New England, they have a good shot at fixing these sort of issues with Valentine. Talent was never the issue and Valentine is built like a tank. If he can right the ship, he can prove to be a very solid interior defensive line player. Valentine plays against the run extremely well, being able clog running lanes and take on double teams with ease.
He also showed good ability against the pass with seven sacks in 36 games. Most likely, Valentine will be a rotational defensive lineman with Malcom Brown, Alan Branch, Terrance Knighton and Markus Kuhn in 2016. But with Branch, Knighton, and Kuhn all slated for free agency at the end of next season. Valentine could be the potential starter alongside Malcom Brown for 2017 and beyond.