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Rolling the dice on damaged goods: Linebackers edition

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The Patriots can definitely find good value in later rounds at the linebacker position... if they aren’t afraid to gamble.

While likes of Shea McClellin, Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts have done admirably in their rotational roles, since Jamie Collins’ departure, Patriots haven’t had a true speedy LB who can cover sideline-to-sideline or Gap-shoot with speed to play next to the sledgehammer Dont’a Hightower. After Falcon’s dynamic RB duo inflicted quite a damage to the "#1 Defense," adding some speed to the LB corp will make the D# even more formidable.

Alas, Patriots are once again missing their top picks (this year, for a good reason though) hence they need to be a bit creative and bold to address the area. Nonetheless, taking a chance on these "damaged goods" for sake of better value has been Belichick’s MO and I could totally see him gambling on prospects below while the fan base lose their collective mind haunted by the phantom of Ras-I Dowling.

Alex Anzalone (Florida)

Projected round = 3-4th; Concern = Durability

Combine Performance Data

40-yard dash: 4.63 seconds (fourth among linebackers) Bench press: 16 reps Vertical jump: 30.5 inches Broad jump: 9 feet, 8 inches Three-cone drill: 6.88 seconds (fourth among linebackers) 20-yard shuttle: 4.25 seconds (tied for fifth among linebackers) 60-yard shuttle: 11.71 seconds (fourth among linebackers)

from Lastwordonprofootball.com

Every trustworthy scouting report and his limited film screams this guy is a legitimate 3-down (or even 4 as he seems to be regarded as good special teamer as well) starting caliber LB prospect when he is on the field, which he further backed up by impressive Senior Bowl week.

He really has everything you want in a LB (athleticism, size, instinct, versatility and intangible)...except health. Dane Brugler of CBS Sports writes:

STRENGTHS: Prototypical frame and size dimensions for the position…field fast with the athleticism in space to smoothly redirect and flow…mirrors runners to the hole/edge, stringing out plays and closing the gap on the perimeter…diagnoses quickly and doesn’t hesitate…sees through blocks and keeps his eyes on the prize…fills with force and plays a physical brand of football…understands football geometry with accurate angles to the play…determined chaser…squares up to the ballcarrier, wraps and powers through his target to finish at the ground…experienced spot dropping with the cover awareness to know what’s going on…intelligence is evident on and off the field – graduated high school with a 4.8 GPA, made SEC Academic Honor Roll multiple times and graduated early with a degree in sport management (Aug. 2016)…coachable and already carries himself like a professional with his work ethic.

WEAKNESSES: Smooth athlete, but not naturally explosive…choppy footwork when moving in reverse and routinely a step late in coverage – below average ball production in college…average-at-best arm length and needs to improve his leverage taking on blocks…only 10 starts at Florida with career production that would be considered below average for a single season…couldn’t stay healthy in college, including a banged up right shoulder that sidelined him for most of his first three seasons in Gainesville – torn labrum (March 2013) as a true freshman that required surgery, but the injury didn’t fully heal, forcing another surgery (Sept. 2015), ending his 2015 season; also broke his left arm (Nov. 2016) and missed the final five games of his redshirt junior season.

SUMMARY: A one-year starter at Florida, Anzalone had a very uninspiring career over his four seasons at Florida due to multiple injuries, but in the 10 starts he was on the field, Anzalone showed off his impressive skill-set. On the field, he is a classic run-and-hit linebacker without many holes in his game, showing the instincts to routinely be in the vicinity and athleticism to make stops, also drawing high praise from his coaches for his locker room presence and work ethic. Anzalone looks, moves and plays the part of a NFL starting linebacker and would be in the first round mix with a durable résumé, but his injury history is a bright red flag that is impossible to ignore – will be a tempting value pick towards the back end of day two, but draft value is entirely dependent on feedback from the medical staff.

Other scouting reports on him:

Draft Tracker on NFL.com

Where to draft him: With his durability concern, I personally believe spending 1st pick in the 3rd round (72th overall) a bit too risky but wouldn't be surprised if BB pulls trigger. 2nd pick in the 3rd round (96th overall) will be a sweet spot. If you can pick him with our 4th round pick (131th overall), that would be an absolute highway robbery. If someone gets too comfortable with the risks and picks him before 72th...well you will earn my "that's a bold strategy, Cotton" look.

Blair Brown (Ohio)

Projected Round = 4th; Concern = Lack of height&Length / Competition Level

If Anzalone's only missing piece was health, Brown's would certainly be sheer height/size, which is unfortunate since he plays much bigger, physical and violent than his 5'11" 238lb frame indicates:

Dane Brugler writes:

STRENGTHS: Above average play speed and range…looks like he was shot out of a cannon when he sees the play unfold, closing to beat blockers to the spot…anticipates based on formations to get a head start on the play…downhill quickness to clear holes before blockers can make contact…high batting average as a tackler due to his balance in motion, textbook pad level and grip strength…doesn’t back down at the point of attack and plays with pop in his hands…strokes ball carriers across the middle of the field…competes with the same physical temperament and determination on every snap…experienced with spot drops…football smart and his preparation shows on game days…self-starter and wants to be great…doesn’t play with a passive bone in his body…highly productive senior season, leading the MAC with 128 total tackles and finishing third in the conference with 15.0 tackles for loss (one behind Tarell Basham).


WEAKNESSES: Undersized with narrow shoulders and shorter-than-ideal arm length…can be engulfed near the line of scrimmage and his play strength doesn’t always match his intentions…struggles to match up vs. bigger bodies and gets bullied…quick trigger and susceptible to ball fakes…too reactive in coverage with better instincts vs. the run than the pass…caught flat-footed in his drops and late to make plays on the ball, registering only two passes defended over 33 career starts (and none the past two seasons)…stayed healthy as a senior, but lacks ideal body armor and missed at least one game each of the previous three seasons due to minor bumps and bruises.


SUMMARY: A three-year starter at Ohio, Brown was a three-down WILL linebacker for the Bobcats, turning in the senior season he needed to gain the attention of NFL teams. Scouts rolled through Athens specifically to see senior pass rusher Tarell Basham, but the speedy linebacker quickly established himself as a legitimate pro prospect worthy of their time. Brown is looking to follow in the footsteps of Jatavis Brown (no relation), another athletic but undersized MAC linebacker who was drafted in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Although his lack of size stands out immediately, Brown flies all over the field and arrives with violence, filling quickly and powerful at contact. He has some limitations once engaged and when dropping in coverage, but his downhill instincts, discipline and hunting mentality allow him to play the run, blitz, zone drop and do a little bit of everything – early day three prospect who will add immediate depth at linebacker.

More scouting reports on him:

Draft Tracker at NFL.com

Where to draft him: Before the combine, this little known LB would be available later in day 3. Alas, after his stellar combine performance, it seems many teams discovered his even better films hence he is sneaking up the draft board. The 96th may be slightly too rich for him but not sure he lasts until 131st either.

Jalen Reeves-Maybin (Tennessee)

Projected Round = 6th; Concern = Lack of size&bulk / Durability

Another lighter LB with extreme athleticism and instinct yet questionable statue and durability? Yep. He is much better yet more injury Kamu Grugier-Hill from last year. At worst, he can be another ST demon. Dane Brugler writes:

STRENGTHS: Flexible athlete to bend around blockers at full speed…functional playing range vs. the run and the pass…instinctive and diagnoses quickly to read, react and attack…takes smart angles and leverages the field well as a run defender, keeping ballcarriers contained…stays focused as a tackler, coming to balance, lowering his pads and driving through his target…cover awareness to drop, stack pass-catchers and make plays on the ball…shoots the gap in a flash to make stops in the backfield (27 career tackles for loss)…athletic bloodlines – father (Marques) scored 1,624 points as a four-year member of the Louisville basketball team…clean football player with professional work ethic…graduated with a degree in recreation and sport management (May 2016)…mature, emotional leader and stayed with his teammates despite his 2016 – senior captain and also has a one-year old daughter…productive résumé and experienced on special team coverages.

WEAKNESSES: Undersized frame with slender shoulders and limited growth potential…struggles to keep himself clean from blocks, lacking ideal arm length and point of attack power…needs to improve his finishing strength to eliminate missed tackles…eyes often stuck in the backfield and late picking up cover assignments…needs to match the physicality of tight ends in coverage without grabbing…strong durability concerns with a history of shoulder issues, suffering a torn left labrum (April 2016) during spring practice and then re-aggravating the injury (biceps subluxation) a few games into his senior year (Sept. 2016), which required surgery and ended
his Vols career – third career procedure on his shoulder after tearing his labrum as a senior in high school.

SUMMARY: A two-year starter at Tennessee, Reeves-Maybin was a highly productive WILL linebacker as a sophomore and junior, posting 100+ tackles both seasons, before injuries sidelined him for most of his final season in Knoxville. He flies all over the field with outstanding range and aggressive instincts, but struggles near theline of scrimmage or when engaged, lacking the length, power or shed skills to keep himself free. Reeves-Maybin is a reliable tackler in space with the athleticism to drop in coverage and play on special teams, also showing the accountable leadership skills that NFL coaches covet. However, his history of shoulder issues is a red flag and could prevent him from holding up long-term in the NFL – has starting potential in run-and-hit scheme, but the medicals are a strong concern

More scouting reports on him:

Draft tracker on NFL.com

Where to draft him: with either 183rd or 200th.