With opening day still more than two months away and the mandatory portion of the initial wave of offseason workouts over, we have entered the more quiet parts of the NFL offseason. However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop.
During workouts and studying sessions, players still have a chance to lay the foundation for their spots on the team. Over the course of the next few months, we will take a look at the men fighting for them on the 2017 New England Patriots. 53 of currently 90 players will be asked to help the team defend its Super Bowl title.
Today, we will continue the series with an undrafted rookie linebacker.
Name: Brooks Ellis
Jersey number: 47b
Opening day age: 22
Size: 6’2, 245 lbs.
2016 review: Despite a productive 2015 campaign, linebacker Brooks Ellis opted not to enter the NFL draft just yet and instead returned to Arkansas for his senior season. The role he played for the Razorbacks in 2016 was similar to the one he held since the final four games of his freshman year: Serving as a starting linebacker and being one of the most productive defenders on the team.
Overall, Ellis started all 13 of Arkansas’ 2016 games. He finished the year as the team leader in tackles (83) and was ranked in the top five in tackles for loss (7.0; 2nd), interceptions (1; t-3rd), passes broken up (5; t-4th) and fumble recoveries (1; t-5th). Furthermore, Ellis added a sack and scored a 47-yard touchdown on his above-mentioned interception.
However, despite his productivity and experience playing both defense and special teams – he was a member of the Razorbacks’ kickoff and punt return coverage units –, Ellis went undrafted in late April. Instead, he signed with the Patriots as a free agent shortly after the draft.
2017 preview: When he was signed, Brooks Ellis joined a crowded New England linebacker corps; one that has only gotten more crowded since due to the addition of veteran David Harris. With Harris joining Dont'a Hightower, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy and Shea McClellin as the locks or near-locks to make the team, Ellis faces an uphill battle to earn a spot on the Patriots' 53-man roster.
If New England opts to go six deep at the position, the 22-year old would have to beat out Jonathan Freeny, Trevor Bates and fellow undrafted rookie Harvey Langi both on defense and special teams – a tall task given Ellis' raw skill set. And while he certainly has the potential to win the competition, the more realistic scenario appears to be that he will not be on the team's week one roster.
Instead, Ellis looks like a prime candidate for a spot on the practice squad. After all, he has the instincts to become a productive player at the next level but still needs to improve his technique in order to make up for his lack of speed and moving abilities. Working on it behind the scenes during his rookie season might therefore be the best course of action.