The New England Patriots have generally carried six linebackers on the roster over the past five seasons. The general breakdown is pretty simple.
There are two top tier starters that are expected to play every down on defense. There's a top back-up that contributes on defense, but also plays on special teams.
The fourth linebacker is a key special teams player that can play defense in a pinch. The fifth and sixth linebackers are generally pure special teamers.
We know that linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins are the locks. Shea McClellin is projected to be the top back-up that also plays on special teams, while Jonathan Freeny is expected to be the key special teams player that steps up on defense in a pinch.
The fifth and sixth linebackers are totally up in the air.
Free agent acquisition Ramon Humber could actually challenge Freeny for the fourth linebacker role as he was a key Saints special teamer, who moonlighted with has 13 starts over the past three seasons. He could have the inside line for one of the fifth or sixth linebacker spots, but the issue is his price tag; he costs roughly twice as much as the other options.
The Patriots added linebackers Kamu Grugier-Hill (KGH) and Elandon Roberts in the 6th round of the 2016 NFL draft, and signed C.J. Johnson as one of their undrafted free agent rookies. All three are talented and cheap and flawed.
KGH is super athletic, but he's light at 215 lbs and comes out of a small school at Eastern Illinois. Roberts is a great middle linebacker out of Houston, but he's undersized at 5'11. Johnson is a former edge defender turned linebacker who battled a knee injury this past season.
Kevin Snyder is another option and he spent the last month of the season on the Patriots practice squad before receiving a promotion to the active roster prior to the AFC Championship game.
Of these players competing for the 5th and 6th linebacker spots, who would you want to see on the roster?
Check out our Running Back poll here. (James White: 26%, D.J. Foster: 25%, Donald Brown: 24%)
Check out our Wide Receiver poll here. (Devin Lucien: 40%, Nate Washington: 34%)
Check out our Tight End poll here. (Clay Harbor: 63%)
Check out our Interior Offensive Line poll here. (David Andrews: 46%, Tre Jackson: 36%)
Check out our Offensive Tackle poll here. (Joe Thuney: 42%, Marcus Cannon: 33%)
Check out our Edge Defender poll here. (Trey Flowers: 52%, Rufus Johnson: 24%, Geneo Grissom: 24%)
Check out our Defensive Tackle poll here. (Joe Vellano: 31%, Frank Kearse: 20%, Only 4 DTs: 20%)