The New England Patriots currently have 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 course of the offseason, we 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 a third-year linebacker.
Name: Elandon Roberts
Jersey number: 52
Opening day age: 24
Size: 6’0, 240 lbs.
2017 review: Coming off a surprisingly productive 2016 season, expectations were positive for former sixth-round draft pick Elandon Roberts entering his second year in the NFL. But while he was given plenty of snaps – in part because of season-ending injuries to Dont’a Hightower and Shea McClellin –, Roberts failed to make the expected leap forward as teams increasingly took advantage of his lack of athleticism and positional versatility as well as his inconsistency when it came to read and react.
All in all, Roberts was on the field for 52.6% (558 of 1,060) of the Patriots’ regular season defensive snaps over 15 games – he missed week seven with an ankle injury – and was used for 53.7% (116 of 216) during the playoffs. His playing time saw a significant increase after the aforementioned Hightower was placed on season-ending injured reserve following week seven’s game versus the Atlanta Falcons.
While Roberts did not fill the team captain’s exact role as a versatile edge/linebacker hybrid, he did get bumped up to the number two option at the position behind Kyle Van Noy. Roberts certainly was statistically productive in that role: he registered 67 tackles during the regular season – fourth-most on the team – and also added 2.0 sacks and a fumble recovery. He furthermore notched 15 tackles in the postseason.
The majority of his statistics came in the ground game, as the second-year player again proved that defending the run was his forte. However, the same cannot be said about his pass defense: Overall, he and his coverage areas were the target of 18 pass attempts and 15 of them were completed for 219 yards and three touchdowns. Only one of the incompletions was actually broken up by Roberts, who struggled at stopping the pass no matter the opponent or scheme.
Therefore, his season can be seen as a disappointing one, despite being among the team leaders in tackles. Roberts entered 2017 with positive momentum and was again solid as a run stopper, but he failed to show any real progress against the passing game. In a pass-first league, this is certainly not a winning recipe for a player that also contributes little on special teams. At this point, one has to wonder whether or not Roberts still has any growth potential beyond “rotational early-down player.”
2018 preview: For playing such a big role in 2017 and bringing plenty of experience to the table, Roberts carries a relatively modest salary cap hit of $655,089 in 2018 – he is still playing on his rookie deal, after all. However, despite a positive financial impact and the rather important role he held last season, he is far from guaranteed a spot on New England’s roster this season even as a depth player on defense.
Roberts will need to prove his worth against the competition he is about to face in training camp. The player he most likely will have to beat out is fifth-round draft selection Ja’Whaun Bentley, who also is primarily a Mike linebacker and run-first defender. If Roberts does not have a better next month than Bentley, and shows strides when it comes to stopping pass catchers from beating him, he could very well lose his job to the rookie.
The veteran is still favored to win the battle, though, considering his experience of playing alongside Dont’a Hightower and the upside he showed during his 2016 rookie season. But that still does not mean that the Patriots would shy away from cutting Roberts if another player like Bentley provided better value as the rotational third/fourth option at the linebacker position.