On the list of positions the New England Patriots might potentially target early in this year's draft, linebacker is near or even at the top. This comes as no surprise considering that the unit failed to meet expectations in 2017 due to inconsistent play and injury issues that ultimately exposed a position depth chart that was missing the adequate athleticism to be competitive at the highest level (i.e. the Super Bowl).
Luckily for the Patriots, this year's draft is a relatively deep one at the linebacker position with multiple players worthy of first-round consideration. The two most popular names might be Alabama's Rashaan Evans and Boise State's Leighton Vander Esch. Both are outstanding athletes that would fit well into the heart of New England's defense alongside Dont'a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy.
The question is which one if any of the two players will be available when the Patriots are on the clock tomorrow. And if they are, would New England be willing to invest in them? The MMQB's Peter King thinks that the answer in both cases is “yes” as a look at his most recent mock draft shows: The Patriots pick Evans with the 23rd overall selection and later go back to the linebacker well to add Vander Esch at number 31.
The Patriots have been willing to double-dip in the past – just look at last year's draft when the team added two defensive edges and two offensive tackles with their four draft picks –, so it would not be a surprise to see them draft two linebackers this week. However, two of them in round one seems like a curious approach even though both Evans and Vander Esch would be terrific pickups at their respective spots.
New England under Bill Belichick is known for being unconventional at times and this move would certainly also fall under this category. It is not as crazy as it looks, though: The linebacker position is arguably the most important one in Belichick's defensive scheme and adding not one but two highly talented players to the fold would instantly upgrade its overall depth, athleticism, and playmaking ability.
All three aspects cannot be underestimated considering that only the aforementioned Hightower and Van Noy should be considered locks to make the team this year. And with the former a constant injury-risk and the latter possibly more suited to be used in specific packages than on every down, adding Evans and Vander Esch would give New England plenty of high-quality, long-term options at linebacker.
Ultimately, though, it seems unlikely that the team would really go this way. Instead, taking a player like Evans or Vander Esch in round one and a developmental mid-round option like Iowa's Josey Jewell, Brigham Young's Fred Warner or Memphis' Genard Avery later appears to be the more realistic projections at this point in time.