The New England Patriots, who will be off until training camp starts later this month, currently have 89 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on August 31 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the summer, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots defend their Super Bowl title.
Today, the series continues with one New England’s second-year players.
Name: Ja’Whaun Bentley
Jersey number: 51
Opening day age: 23
Size: 6’2, 255 lbs.
2018 review: Even though he entered the NFL as just the 143rd overall selection of the 2018 draft, Ja’Whaun Bentley quickly showed promise as a rotational linebacker in New England’s system. The Purdue product also proved himself to be more than ‘just’ the primarily run-stopping defender he was in college: he was used in numerous roles during the preseason and showed upside in coverage and when playing downhill.
As a result, Bentley was able to carve out a role on the Patriots’ 53-man roster as the top depth option alongside Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy. As such, the rookie was not just active for the first three of New England’s regular season games but also on the field quite regularly: Bentley played 138 of a possible 217 defensive snaps (63.6%) as well as 46 additional snaps in the kicking game (of 85; 54.1%).
All in all, the regular season was a continuation of his strong training camp and preseason performances. The fifth-round draft pick, who saw most of his action as a box linebacker, was strong as a tackler and in the running game, and also competitive in coverage and as a pass rusher: he allowed just two pass completions on four targets for a combined 16 yards and an interception, and registered three quarterback pressures (one hit, two hurries).
Bentley also was trusted by the coaching staff to call the defensive shots on one occasion. In the first half of New England’s week three game against the Detroit Lions, he had the communication device in his helmet — another sign that the coaching staff was pleased with his development before a torn bicep suffered in that very game forced the team to place him on its season-ending injured reserve list.
However, Bentley’s rookie season can still be seen as a success: he was able to find a role on the team, showed promise as a possible three-down linebacker, and was regularly used on special teams as well (playing on punt coverage, kick return and field goal/extra point blocking units). He certainly adapted well to live in the NFL and built a solid foundation on which to work on in year two.
2019 preview: Entering 2019, Bentley can be seen as one of three roster locks at linebacker alongside the aforementioned Hightower and Van Noy. The main question heading into the new season will therefore be what his role will ultimately look like. Given his rookie campaign, however, it would not be a surprise if the 22-year-old again served as the top option behind New England’s one-two punch at the position (ahead of Elandon Roberts and Jamie Collins).
After all, Bentley fared well as a rotational three-down option alongside the veterans: he looked very solid in coverage and run defense, and also showed good versatility when being moved around the formation. And while he should not be expected to rival Hightower and Van Noy when it comes to playing time, it would not be a surprised if Bentley was on the field for 50-60% of defensive snaps any given week.
Ultimately, he appears to be prime candidate to make the famous second-year jump.