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Film Review: Elandon Roberts could be the next great Patriots linebacker

The rookie 6th round pick put on a show against the Browns.

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New England Patriots LB Elandon Roberts surprised everyone with an incredible performance against the Cleveland Browns. Roberts leapfrogged Jonathan Freeny and the depth chart and played well enough that Dont’a Hightower could rest for much of the second half.

Roberts was the best defender on the field, according to Pro Football Focus, and it was easy to see why- the 5’11, 235 pound, 6th round rookie was everywhere.

The Patriots coaching staff wasn’t surprised, of course. Head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia have been watching Roberts for a long time.

“Personally, I first saw him when I was watching Keenan Reynolds, the Navy quarterback,” Belichick admit (watch Roberts’ snaps from that game here). “In that game Reynolds threw for 300 yards or something like that. He threw a lot of passes in the game and that was the game of his career that he threw the most so I wanted to watch that.

“And when I watched that I kept noticing the middle linebacker for Houston. And he made a ton of plays in that game. I don't know how many tackles he had but they weren't all on the option play because he blitzed, he just showed up on plays, showed up a lot. I thought he ran well.

“I didn't even know who he was so I went and got the information on him and so forth. That's when I first noticed him. I'd say in scouting him throughout his college career – good production, particularly his senior year, runs well, probably plays to or maybe a little bigger than his size. He's got some explosion. Obviously he doesn't have the kind of length that some players have at that position but he plays strong, he's instinctive, he can find the ball, he runs well.

“When coach [Brian] Flores went down and worked him out he confirmed all of those things plus how hardworking of a player he is and so forth. Chad O'Shea's father is down there as the trainer, Mike O'Shea. And so, Mike [O'Shea] and I go back a long ways about as far as Chad does. He was very complimentary of Elandon's work ethic and toughness and leadership and so forth. So those are some of the information points.”

Chad O’Shea’s dad, Mike O’Shea, has been the Head Athletics Trainer for the University of Houston since 1993. Mike actually worked for the Baltimore Colts in 1973 and likely part of 1974. Belichick was hired by the Colts in 1975.

Belichick added that Roberts’ physicality stood out in the preseason, noting that the linebacker has a good eye for defending the run. Patricia complemented Roberts’ instincts and passion for the game.

Roberts is undersized, but Belichick mentioned London Fetcher and Ray Lewis as other small linebackers that have found a way to thrive in the NFL. The head coach wanted to be clear that he wasn’t comparing Roberts to those two, but was instead saying that Roberts isn’t the first of his kind.

Roberts didn’t receive the start, but he took the field in the second quarter after the Patriots took an early lead, Browns QB Cody Kessler was injured, and the Patriots coaching staff decided rotate in some of the younger players.

Q2-2-9-CLV 26 (11:35) (Shotgun) T.Pryor pass incomplete short right to R.Higgins.

Roberts is the middle linebacker.

This play is a designed rollout for Terrelle Pryor with a levels concept to the right side. ED Rob Ninkovich and DL Alan Branch are responsible for the line of scrimmage, while S Patrick Chung has to cover TE Gary Barnidge running a corner route.

Roberts’ coverage wasn’t perfect, but he absolutely took away the play from Pryor and dropped well into coverage. This is awareness above and beyond some other linebackers on the roster.

Q2-2-16-CLV 31 (10:05) I.Crowell left tackle to CLV 33 for 2 yards (E.Roberts).

Roberts is the middle linebacker.

The Browns run a stretch run to the left, with LT Joe Thomas and TE Gary Barnidge throwing a double team block on LB Jamie Collins. DT Malcom Brown did a nice job taking away the angle from LG Joel Bitonio and forcing RB Isaiah Crowell to cut back across the formation.

Roberts breaks down nicely in space and makes the open field tackle. This is not a complicated tackle, but Roberts doesn’t over-pursue the angle like some Patriots linebackers might have done.

Kudos to DL Alan Branch for that athletic hurdle over the tight end.

Q2-1-10-CLV 2 (6:03) I.Crowell left guard to CLV 2 for no gain (E.Roberts).

Roberts is the middle linebacker.

Roberts just comes up the middle and absolutely crushes future Hall of Fame LT Joe Thomas in the gap.

“I certainly noticed that play where he came down and hit Joe Thomas,” Belichick said. “That was an explosive hit.”

Roberts makes the tackle through Thomas’ block as the Patriots force a major stop. This was a Brandon Spikes-level run stuff.

Q3-2-8-CLV 26 (11:42) (Shotgun) C.Whitehurst pass short left to T.Pryor to CLV 27 for 1 yard (E.Roberts).

Roberts is lined across from the left guard and drops into coverage towards the left.

The Patriots started to run some shallow zones to possibly confuse the opposing quarterback or just to drain the clock. Roberts winds up in coverage of WR Terrelle Pryor.

Oh, and Roberts wins this exchange.

Roberts shows the quickness to cover one of the best athletes in the league and, again, breaks down well in space to force the stop.

Q3-1-10-NE 28 (9:42) (No Huddle) I.Crowell right tackle to NE 30 for -2 yards (E.Roberts).

Roberts is lined up across from the right guard and scrapes towards the right sideline.

ED Jabaal Sheard makes this play happen by destroying the right edge of the line of scrimmage and opening up a lane for Roberts to make another open field tackle. The Patriots also had defensive backs in the area to make the stop, if necessary.

“He's really instinctive,” Patricia said about Roberts. “He does a good job of reading the offense and being able to decipher what they're doing pretty quick, so just a young player that we're trying to improve and trying to get better.”

Roberts was able to make stops all over the open field. He was effective against both the run and the pass. He was strong, he was quick, he was explosive. He was everything the Patriots coaches knew he could be.

Roberts will have to put together another strong performance against a team better than the Browns, but he checks all of the boxes for what makes a linebacker great. He’s smart, he’s passionate, and he’s striving for greatness.