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 depth linebackers.
Name: Elandon Roberts
Jersey number: 52
Opening day age: 25
Size: 6’0, 240 lbs.
2018 review: Coming off an inconsistent 2017 campaign, Elandon Roberts responded by delivering arguably the best season of his three-year career so far. A big reason for his improved play in 2018 was his role: as opposed to the previous season, one that both Dont’a Hightower and Shea McClellin ended on injured reserve, Roberts was employed in more of a rotational role again as New England’s third option at the position.
Playing behind Hightower and Kyle Van Noy, he appeared in all nineteen of the Patriots’ games and saw the field for 430 of a possible 1,043 defensive snaps (41.2%) during the regular season. He added 45 more snaps during New England’s playoff run (of 188; 23.9%). When in the lineup, Roberts — as was the case for most of his career up to that point — was again used primarily as a box linebacker aligning off the line of scrimmage.
As such, he saw extensive action in the running game and as a coverage defender. While the former has always been one of Roberts’ strong suits, the latter oftentimes saw inconsistent performances out of the former sixth-round draft pick. 2018 was different, though, as he was more competitive in coverage despite being targeted a combined 22 times: while he did surrender 16 catches, he limited their impact by giving up only 131 yards and no touchdowns — all while breaking up four passes
Roberts also was solid when playing downhill in the passing game and registered five quarterback disruptions on the year: a sack as well as two hits and two hurries. On top of it all, he also saw his most ever action in the kicking game as he was on the field for a career-high 82 special teams snaps (of 545; 15.0%) over the course of the season and registered a pair of tackles. Add it all up, and you get a solid bounce-back season out of Roberts.
Of course, it did not look like that would happen early on during the season: Roberts saw limited playing time through the first three weeks as the Patriots’ coaching staff preferred rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley as the top option behind Hightower and Van Noy. Once Bentley was placed on injured reserve, however, Roberts was elevated to the third spot on the depth chart again and he never looked back.
2019 preview: Despite coming off a solid season and bringing considerable experience to the table, Roberts is not guaranteed a spot on New England’s roster this year. He is entering the final year of his rookie contract with a salary cap hit of $2.05 million, after all, while the club has considerable depth and upside at the linebacker position that could challenge the 25-year-old’s standing as the third player behind Hightower and Van Noy.
Roberts will therefore need to prove his worth against the competition he is about to face in training camp: the aforementioned Bentley and offseason acquisition Jamie Collins Sr. both provide considerable potential in New England’s system. If Roberts fails to build on his 2018 campaign and continues to show strides when it comes to stopping pass catchers from beating him, he could very well slide down the depth chart — and possibly off the roster.
That being said, it is more likely that Roberts’ already rotational role will be adapted to the linebacker corps’ new composition: Bentley is projected to play more of a three-down role, with Collins possibly serving as more of a passing game specialist. Roberts, meanwhile, could be used primarily on early downs and in short-yardage situations, which would play to his strengths as a run-stuffer and strong tackler.
Could the team decide to move on — either via a trade or a straight-up release — and use Roberts’ roster spot to boost the team’s depth elsewhere? It is possible if he fails to consistently perform in training camp and the preseason. With Bentley having yet to play a full NFL season and Collins a relative wild card, however, Roberts should be expected to make the opening day 53-man roster for the fourth year in a row.