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 one of the Patriots’ linebackers.
Name: Elandon Roberts
Jersey number: 52
Opening day age: 23
Size: 6’0, 235 lbs.
2016 review: On the third day of the 2016 NFL draft, the Patriots opted to invest a sixth round selection – pick #214 – in an undersized but athletically intriguing linebacker out of Houston: Elandon Roberts. A near-afterthought on draft day, Roberts would go on to become a valuable defender for New England over the course of his rookie campaign.
During his first NFL season, he appeared in 13 of the Patriots’ regular season games and all three postseason contests. Serving mostly as an early down run defender next to defensive captain Dont’a Hightower, Roberts was on the field for 26.0% of defensive snaps (271 of 1,044) during the regular season and 38.5% (72 of 178) throughout the playoffs.
The coaching staff trusted the rookie enough to put him in high-pressure situations – and for the most part he handled it very well. Roberts shined especially in run defense and finished the regular season with 29 tackles – two for loss – when playing the run. He added another 15 tackles in the passing game as well as one quarterback hit and one hurry.
Roberts continued his strong performance in the playoffs, when he saw a considerable number of snaps in a role even more focused on stopping the run. He finished with seven tackles, six of which coming in the running game, and also added one quarterback hurry. Overall, though, Roberts still has room to improve when it comes to defending the pass – quarterbacks completed a combined 84% of passes thrown his way (16 of 19 for 214 yards) – and growing into a three-down role.
All in all, though, Roberts has had a very good first professional campaign and has laid the foundation to potentially become a core member of New England’s linebacker corps for the foreseeable future.
2017 preview: Due to his strong first year in the NFL and the fact that he is naturally still on his rookie contract, which will hit the Patriots’ salary cap with $565,000 come the regular season, Roberts is close to a lock to make the team’s 53-man roster as one of the projected five or six linebackers. As such, he is a candidate to start as an early down defender opposite Dont'a Hightower.
The 23-year was put into this role during New England’s postseason run and while not all was perfect faired very well. He therefore – and because of his outstanding instincts – seems well equipped to handle those responsibilities once again in 2017. Consequently, Roberts is projected to play at least one third of the Patriots’ defensive snaps yet again, all while sharing playing time with veteran David Harris.
With him a safe bet to make the team and already a productive presence in the running game, the main question entering his second season thus appears to be whether or not Roberts will be able to improve his pass defense. Given his athleticism and above-mentioned instincts he has the tools to do that; and with another offseason in the system he might have the experience and technique as well.
If he is indeed able to build on this foundation and make himself a better pass defender, it would not be a surprise to see the former sixth rounder see more playing time – especially on later downs – and potentially grow into a three down defender.