If there is one NFL team that consistently does the unexpected, it is the New England Patriots. Releasing Lawyer Milloy? Sure. Trading Logan Mankins? Of course. Shipping Chandler Jones to Arizona? You bet! Today, the team has made the latest of blockbuster moves when it reportedly traded Pro Bowl linebacker Jamie Collins to the Cleveland Browns for a conditional third round draft pick.
This creates a gigantic hole in the middle of the Patriots’ defense, one that has to be filled one way or thd other. Let’s take a look at the remaining linebackers on the team to find out who will be asked to step up now that Collins has forced to step down.
Like Collins, Hightower is a Pro Bowl-caliber player and one of the NFL’s premier linebackers. A three-down defender that is strong against the pass and the run, the 26-year old defensive captain and on-field signal caller will likely not see his role change too much. He will still play the vast majority of defensive snaps - as has been the case prior to the Collins trade.
The 27-year old, whom New England signed as a free agent in March, has been a part-time player on defense and special teams in his first six games as a Patriot. At 6’3, 260 lbs, he has the size the team likes from its linebackers but thus far has lacked consistency when playing on defense. Consequently, McClellin’s playing time might increase only slightly with Collins gone.
In August, New England traded a fifth-round draft pick to Cleveland to obtain Mingo’s services. The 26-year old has impressive athletic abilities but, like fellow former first-round selection McClellin, has been unable to put it all together at the next level. The change in scenery did not change this as Mingo has been predominately used on special teams and only rarely on defense by the Patriots. Don’t expect anything else moving forward.
Despite being a sixth-round rookie, Roberts might be the major benefactor of the Patriots trading away Collins. While he is undersized at 5’11, 235 lbs, the 22-year old has shown a natural feel for the game, good instincts and solid fundamentals since taking over the number three linebacker spot from injured Jonathan Freeny. He replaced Collins when the now-Brown was slowed down by injuries in weeks 5 and 6 and is the front runner to do the same now.
Kyle Van Noy
New England traded for Van Noy last week - possibly with making him Collins’ replacement already in mind. At 6’3, 245 lbs he has ideal size to play off and on the line in New England’s scheme, just like Collins was asked to do. However, the 25-year old has not been able to live up to his pre-draft pedigree while with the Lions; it remains to be seen if this will happen in Foxboro. It would certainly help soften the self-inflicted blow of losing Collins if it did.
The veteran has practiced at linebacker this summer and has seen some snaps off the line of scrimmage since returning from a four-game suspension. He will likely not be the next man up when it comes to replacing Collins but his versatility and experience give the Patriots another emergency option should Roberts or Van Noy not be up to the task.