The 2017 New England Patriots proved to be vulnerable along their defensive front seven, and lacked high-quality playmakers especially after Dont'a Hightower was lost for the year due to injury. Even though the defensive captain will be back this year, finding players to upgrade the depth up front needs to be highly on the list of the Patriots' goals this draft season.
Iowa’s Josey Jewell, the Big Ten’s leading tackler from a year ago and an All-American selection, could therefore very well be on New England’s draft board. Let's take a closer look at him.
Name: Josey Jewell
Stats: 12 games, 136 tackles (13.5 for loss), 4.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 11 pass break-ups, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
Size: 6010, 234 lbs
Combine numbers: 4.82 40-yard dash, 33” vertical, 9’9” broad jump, 6.80 3-cone, 18 bench press reps
Expected Round: 4th/5th
Strengths: As evidenced by his tackling and pass breakup/interception numbers, Jewell has a natural feel for the game and tremendous instincts when it comes to playing defense and finding the ball carrier or intended receiver. This, together with his intelligence and outstanding technique, helps cover up some of his athletic shortcomings and helps him be a productive defender against both the pass and the run.
Jewell has impressive vision from the second level and is active with his eyes to identify his targets. He also is a very patient player: He does not oversell his position to open up pass routes when in coverage and lets his blocks develop to attack through the gaps in his run defense. Furthermore, he is a good communicator at the heart of defense and helps others identify their assignments.
A high-motor player that was reliable rarely left the field at Iowa, Jewell also plays faster than his workout numbers might indicate. Once he identifies his target, he quickly reaches it and takes it down displaying solid strength and hand placement. Jewell furthermore is a leader on and off the field and was voted team captain three years in a row.
Weaknesses: As noted above, Jewell has some shortcomings in terms of athleticism. His 4.82 40-yard-time is well below the historical combine average, while he also failed to impress during the bench press and vertical leap. While workouts and actual play are two completely different entities to judge, his numbers could prove problematic at the next level when going against far superior players than he did at Iowa.
Jewell also lacks the quickness to consistently be competitive in pass coverage against tight ends and especially running backs. His outstanding instincts and vision can only make up for his athletic weaknesses to a certain point. Furthermore, Jewell is a bit undersized when compared to the standard at the linebacker position – which could turn out to be problematic when it comes to shedding blockers once engaged.
His physical limitations also might limit Jewell’s usage: If he does not prove himself able to perform in one-on-one coverage or when forced to play in space, his value would predominately lie as an early-down defender and in the kicking game.
What would be his role? Besides his ability to play on kickoff and punt coverage units from day one onwards, Jewell’s best fit would be as a rotational MIKE-linebacker: an off-the-line depth option that lines up in the middle of the defense. Specific to the Patriots’ scheme, this would mean as the single deep backer in the team’s preferred 5-1 front – a role usually played by Elandon Roberts in the past.
How many downs can he play? Four, in theory. His physical limitations, however, might prevent him from seeing regular playing time on obvious passing downs, at least early on in his career.
What is his special teams value? Jewell’s instincts and proven understanding of schematic concepts make him a perfectly fitting player in the kicking game: He could play on all four kickoff and punt coverage units and also see time as an edge rusher versus field goal and extra point attempts
Does he have positional versatility? For most of his career at Iowa, Jewell lined up in the aforementioned MIKE-linebacker spot. While he occasionally moved up to the line of scrimmage, his skills and size would likely limit his effectivity there at the next level. His best fit, therefore, seems to be as a middle linebacker in the NFL, even though he would have the smarts to learn other positions’ responsibilities.
Will his role change from year 1 to year 2? Jewell’s career will likely start as a rotational depth linebacker and core special teamer. Ideally, he is able to improve his standing as a defender from year one to year two to turn into more of a four-down defender. For this to happen, he would need to work on his quickness and short-area moving abilities.
Which current Patriots will he have to beat out? Elandon Roberts, Marquis Flowers and Nicholas Grigsby all play similar positions and would compete with Jewell for practice reps, playing time and a spot on the roster.
Why the Patriots? New England’s linebacker position is one of the few major question marks on the roster, especially behind top options Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy. Jewell would add depth behind the duo as both a run and pass defender. He would therefore help fill an obvious need for relatively little cost (likely a day three pick), while simultaneously being able to also playing in the kicking game – thus bringing competition to the previously mentioned Roberts, Flowers and Grigsby.
Why not the Patriots? The Patriots are expected to address their linebacker position early in the draft by potentially adding a player like Alabama’s Rashaan Evans or Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch. If that really happens, New England – currently not owning a draft pick where Jewell is expected to be taken – might opt to address other positions on day three instead of adding a rotational depth player.
Verdict: What Jewell lacks in athleticism, he makes up for by being one of the smartest and most disciplined defenders on the field. As such, he seems like a natural fit for the Patriots as a rotational depth option at the MIKE-linebacker position and potential day one starter on all four special teams coverage units. He would clearly not be the lone solution to New England's linebacker depth questions but could be an upgrade over a player like Elandon Roberts.