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 one of the Patriots’ draft defensive picks.
Name: Ja’Whaun Bentley
Jersey number: TBD (offseason #53)
Opening day age: 22
Size: 6’2, 255 lbs.
2017 review: Two years removed from an ACL tear, Ja’Whaun Bentley produced the finest season of his college career. Playing in 12 of Purdue’s 13 games, he set new career marks in every major defensive category and led his team with 97 tackles while also recording a sack and two forced fumbles. Bentley also made plays in the passing game and finished with three pass breakups and an interception which he returned 76 yards for a touchdown.
Bentley’s senior year with the Boilermakers certainly was a fitting end to a productive four-year stretch and earned him honorable all-Big Ten recognition. However, it did not bolster his projected draft stock higher than day three. Purdue’s captain entered draft season with a fair share of questions attached to his name, after all: from his athleticism, to him being a rather one-dimensional linebacker primarily suited to defend the run, to a lengthy injury history.
Despite all those question marks, Bentley still regularly proved that he is capable of putting up big numbers and making plays on defense and in the kicking game. As one of the hardest hitters in all of college football, he also showed an ability to read and react and move through blockers to make a play on the football. And while the same upside was never apparent in the (man-to-man) passing game, his foundation put him on at least one team’s draft radar.
2018 preview: While the Patriots’ linebacker group struggled in 2017, the team waited until the third day of the draft to address it. As the first of two linebackers chosen by the team that day, Ja’Whaun Bentley – the 143rd selection of the draft – will be given plenty of chances to prove that he belongs on an NFL field and is capable of backing up the two lone roster locks at the position (Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy).
Given his status as a late-round rookie, the task at hand is not an easy one for Bentley. Not only will he have to improve his man-coverage and show that he is not a one-trick pony, he also will have to beat out more experienced players in Elandon Roberts and Marquis Flowers. Considering especially Roberts’ play in 2017, however, there appears to be a realistic chance that the rookie unseats the returning veteran as one of the top backup options at linebacker.
It would therefore not be surprising to see Bentley make the team and receive playing time in specific defensive packages, from first and second down to goal-line, and on special teams. But even if he fails to make the team – which would also not be overly shocking considering his status as a late round draft pick –, New England would likely want to keep him around as a developmental practice squad player.