My first impression of LB Elandon Roberts was from before the 2016 NFL Draft, well ahead of the New England Patriots making him one of their sixth round picks. The Patriots needed a cornerback so I watched footage of future-first round pick William Jackson III out of the University of Houston.
I was distracted by Roberts, then wearing #44, and his ability to time the snap in order to crash into the backfield and make a big stop.
So when the Patriots selected Roberts, I was pretty excited about his potential in New England as an interior linebacker tasked with blowing up running plays. Roberts flashed his ability in the preseason and ultimately made the roster, allowing the Patriots to move on from Jamie Collins.
Elandon Roberts, #52, is stronger than his size might suggest. Long single handedly disrupts this play. pic.twitter.com/g0h9ewuCYt— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) August 29, 2016
Roberts’ teammates and coaches weren’t surprised to see Roberts take on a larger role once he settled into the defensive playbook.
“I kind of knew coming in that he had some explosiveness and power,” Patriots LB coach Brian Flores said, “had a violent play style, so the second we got pads on is when I kind of saw what kind of player he is.”
And what type of player is that?
“I would say he’s definitely physical, definitely has a violent play style, he’s got speed, he’s got quickness, he’s smart, he’s done a good job of trying to learn our defense,” Flores said. “It’s hard for a rookie coming in, trying to put everything together because there’s a lot of info and terminology, along with the other things that come with being a rookie, moving to a new city, meeting a bunch of new people, there’s a lot going on for rookies specifically, so he’s done a good job.”
Roberts’ teammates were more colorful in their description of Roberts.
“I’d say a truck,” Patriots EDGE Robert Ninkovich offered as a comparison for Roberts, as fellow LB Kyle Van Noy laughed at the neighboring seat. “Get off the tracks, the train’s coming through.”
“Elandon, you can tell he’s a guy that likes to hit,” RB James White said. “You could tell that from the first day getting in pads, these guys are flying around. “
“F—ing hammer, man,” defensive captain and LB Dont’a Hightower said, before diving into a story.
“The first thing in OTAs,” Hightower continued, “E.Rob is [saying] seven on seven isn’t his forte, he’s more of an aggressive kind of guy, and that’s all he kind of talked about, ‘Wait until we get the pads on, wait until we get the pads on.’
“Everybody that says that, you usually get in pads and they have one good hit and that’s it, but E.Rob...not so much. So a lot of guys kind of knew what to expect after those first couple of plays- after that I can guarantee you that those linemen were looking to see where [jersey number] 52 was before they took their snap.”
In other words, Roberts kept delivering big hit after big hit during practice, catching the eyes of teammates and coaches.
“Hey, I’ll just be doing my job, man,” Roberts said, while also calling me “big dog” a handful of times. “Them guys there, it’s a great group of guys there. We’re really tight at the linebacker position. I appreciate their compliments, but I’m just doing my job for them guys next to me. Just try to go in there and do my job and make a play for my team. Because I know if I do my job, the other ten can do theirs.”
Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia cracked up laughing after hearing how Hightower described Roberts, before flagging Roberts down to join our conversation.
“What’s up coach?,” Roberts asked Patricia.
“Ask him,” Patricia asked me to direct the line of questioning back to Roberts. “What was my first impression when you made your first hit. Let’s see if you answer this correctly.”
“You was going crazy,” Roberts said with a big grin on his face before turning to me. “He was excited. He’s always excited for us.”
“I am excited for you, you’re right,” Patricia agreed. “But it was probably during practice, so I was probably correcting you on something. Giving you a coaching point or something.”
“Oh, if it was during practice, he was correcting me,” Roberts laughed. “He was like, ‘Good hit, but...’”
“That’s exactly right,” Patricia said before turning back to me. “Elandon’s doing a great job. He’s really doing a great job, he’s trying to get better, Coach Flores is doing an unbelievable job with him and we’re just trying to get him improving every day, every week. He’s a great kid, studying, learning, he has a lot to learn, he’s trying to pick up the game, he’s got great instincts. When you see him and see those plays, it’s the instincts that really stand out.”
Roberts attributes his instincts to his hard work at practice, saying that he’s always practiced harder to make the game itself seem easier (“I never have butterflies.”)
While Roberts caught my attention while I was watching his teammate, the Patriots noticed Roberts after scouting his opponent. Head coach Bill Belichick was evaluating QB Keenan Reynolds from his beloved Navy when this one linebacker from Houston kept ruining every single play.
“I kept noticing the middle linebacker for Houston,” Belichick said. “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.”
Roberts role has increased in recent weeks as he rotates into the line-up with Hightower, Van Noy, and Shea McClellin, primarily on rushing downs. He’s thrilled to be back in Houston for Super Bowl LI and the hammer is likely to have a major role in stopping the Falcons rushing attack.