The New England Patriots currently have the maximum of 90 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on September 1 and ultimately make the team. Over the next weeks, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots recapture the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Today, the series continues with another one of the Patriots’ draft picks.
Name: Christian Sam
Jersey number: TBD (offseason #54)
Opening day age: 22
Size: 6’2, 240 lbs.
2017 review: Coming off a medical redshirt year after he suffered a season-ending foot injury in the first game of 2016, Christian Sam returned to the levels that made him an intriguing player during his sophomore campaign: he appeared in all 12 of Arizona State’s games and finished what turned out to be his final college season as the Sun Devils’ leader in tackles with 127, 9.5 of which resulting in loss of yardage.
In general, Sam proved to be an active player with a nose for finding the football and making plays – despite not being a standout athlete and sometimes misdiagnosing play developments. Being used rather successfully as both a downhill run defender and in coverage of tight ends and running backs, he added 3.0 sacks, a forced fumble, and one interception and two pass breakups to his impressive tackle numbers.
After the season, Sam decided to forgo his fifth year of eligibility and instead declared for the draft. With reported questions about his practice-related work ethic and leadership, as well as his athletic abilities following an average combine workout (4.75 40-yard, 7.03 3-cone, 28 bench press, 32” vertical, 9’6” broad jump) seemingly overshadowing his productivity in 2015 and 2017, Sam was projected to come off the board no sooner than day three.
2018 preview: When the Patriots selected Sam with the 178th pick of the draft, they made him their second straight choice at the linebacker position. And just like fifth-rounder Ja’Whaun Bentley, Sam also is not guaranteed a spot on New England’s 53-man squad this year. The chances of him making the squad, however, appear to be solid when looking at the team’s current linebacker group.
Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy are the only two locks at the position, and the projected three spots behind them are up for grabs. Sam’s upside as a potential four-down player, his versatility to play multiple linebacker spots, and his track record as a productive college player should help his case – but he still needs to show that he can compete at the NFL level and the superior athletes and more difficult schemes he will face at the professional level.
In the end, nothing would be a surprise: Sam could very well get lost in the competition and end up on the chopping block in September, before possibly returning through the practice squad. If he has a good training camp and gets more consistent with his technique and play recognition, however, he might very well be able to beat out incumbents Elandon Roberts, Marquis Flowers, and Nicholas Grigsby, and carve out a role as a coverage linebacker.