Trey Flowers takes down LSU’s Zach Mettenberger in a 2013 game between the Razorbacks and Tigers. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema isn’t a man prone to hyperbole, but when asked to compare new Patriots’ draft pick Trey Flowers approach and attitude to someone currently in the NFL, he invoked one of his former Wisconsin players.
“I will say this — I’m cautious to compare anyone to J.J. Watt, but Trey’s mentality and his work ethic and his attitude is like J.J.,” Bielema said Tuesday when asked about Flowers, who was taken in the fourth round (101st overall) in this year’s NFL draft by the Patriots. “They have a similar approach to the game. Trey just goes hard, especially when the situation is biggest.”
Even though it was more about worth ethic and desire than on-field production, the Watt comparison is high praise from anyone, especially Bielema, who coached Watt for two seasons as a collegian at Wisconsin. (Maybe it’s because while as a collegian, Flowers used to make some ridiculous feats look mundane, like this box jump.) Regardless, it’s clear the Patriots might have landed an intriguing prospect in Flowers, a 6-foot-2, 266-pound defensive end who led Arkansas in tackles for loss (15.5 for 95 yards), sacks (six for 71 yards) and quarterback hurries (nine) last season.
Working in one of the toughest college football conferences in America, Pro Football Focus had Flowers as one of the five best edge defenders in the 2015 draft class, and he provided three of the four pressures that elite tackle La’el Collins of LSU surrendered in the entire season. As a result, he was named 2014 All-SEC second team, 2013 All-SEC second team (coaches) and 2011 Freshman All-SEC team.
“(He was a) real productive player at Arkansas,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Flowers shortly after the pick was made on Saturday. “(He) played mainly on the edge, a little bit inside. But a he’s a young player that I think has got a lot of good football in front of him; a lot of great qualities in terms of leadership, toughness.”
Toughness and versatility seem to be Flowers’ calling cards. A tweener who spent time at multiple spots and in multiple schemes, both Flowers and Bielema said his strength is in stopping the run and being physical, with his old coach calling him “country strong.”
“It’s just something I take pride in — just really being physical with the offensive linemen and setting point of attack and just really wanting to be dominant as far as putting the hands on them,” Flowers said. “When the time permits — say third down or a certain type of formation or a certain type of tendency appears — I can get after it with a good pass rush.”
“I told coach Belichick that whatever you want him to do, that’s what you’re going to get,” Bielema said. “When Trey was here, we had him to a bunch of stuff — rush the passer, come out of that c gap, cover pass catchers in the flat. I believe he can do it all.”
Bielema said Flowers is a smart and funny guy who wasn’t surprised to hear Flowers get off a Bobby Boucher reference in his first conference call with the New England media shortly after he was picked by the Patriots last weekend.
“Yeah, he doesn’t have too many bad days, I can tell you that,” Bielema said with a laugh.
While Flowers gave a Bobby Boucher comparison, from a straight on-field perspective, Bielema said that Flowers is reminiscent of defensive end O’Brien Schofield, who also played for Bielema at Wisconsin. Schofield, a defensive end now with the Seahawks who was taken in the fourth round of the 2010 draft by the Cardinals, has 13.5 sacks in five years in the NFL.
Meanwhile, before the draft, analyst Jon Gruden told ESPN’s Mike Sando that he’d compare Flowers to veteran linebacker LaMarr Woodley when Woodley was coming out of Michigan, praising Flowers’ versatility and instincts and echoing Bielema’s scouting report.
“He physically can play the run,” Gruden said of Flowers. “He could be an outside linebacker and stand on his feet. He has the ability to move on a zone blitz, read the quarterback, break on the ball and intercept it. He is instinctive, he is physical and he is relentless. A lot of times, teams are forcing you to play nickel all the time, anyway, and the outside linebacker in a 3-4 plays defensive end in the nickel. I need a guy who can play both positions. Flowers can do that.”
Ultimately, Bielema understands he’s biased, but believes the Patriots landed a “special player” in Flowers.
“Trey comes from an incredible family — he has nine brothers and sisters,” Bielema said. “He’s a really great kid, not a smarter-than-you type of player. He’s just really laid back, a nice kid and a hard worker. He’s earned everything he’s gotten, and he’ll work as hard as he can when he gets to New England, I know that.”