The New England Patriots have been looking for a coverage linebacker replacement since they traded Jamie Collins to the Cleveland Browns. Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy are able to flip back-and-forth as the team’s middle linebacker and strongside linebacker, but there is a glaring need for a coverage linebacker.
Veteran Marquis Flowers signed a one-year deal and he appeared capable enough for the role in short stints during 2018, but Bill Belichick and the Patriots would love to have a long-term solution.
So it should be no surprise that the Patriots held visits with two of the better coverage linebackers in the draft, according to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport.
Arizona State LB Christian Sam
#ASU LB Christian Sam finished his top 30 visits when he left the #Patriots last night. He spent time with #Chiefs, #Cowboys & #AZCardinals, while the #Texans, #Rams & #Lions did workouts. Lots of action for the likely 2nd day pick.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 12, 2018
The 6’1, 244-pound Sam almost played cornerback before he grew in size and has the ability to cover running backs and tight ends in the open field. He’s a record-setting tackler, racking up 225, along with 16 tackles for loss, 5 passes defended, 2 interceptions, and 3 forced fumbles over his two seasons as a starter.
Sam possesses NFL size, speed, and quickness, but isn’t exceptional in any of those categories. He could be a solid long-term solution for the Patriots that doesn’t earn league-wide accolades. He should be available in rounds 3-5.
Alabama LB Rashaan Evans
The 6’2, 232-pound Evans is a well-regarded prospect that is projected to go anywhere between 20th and 40th overall, so he would make a lot of sense for the Patriots. He’s experienced on special teams, where a lot of Patriots rookies earn their time on the field, and he’s capable of starting on defense in week 1.
Evans offers a lot of flexibility as he can rush the passer (14 career sacks), stuff the run (21.5 career tackles for loss), and drop into coverage (5 pass break-ups), although he was not frequently utilized in coverage at Alabama. He’s utilized in a role not dissimilar to how Dont’a Hightower was used at Alabama and could provide insurance for multiple linebacker positions.