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New England Patriots 2019 roster breakdown: #44 LB Christian Sam

Can the second-year man bounce back after a rookie season spent on injured reserve?

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at New England Patriots Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

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 of New England’s second-year players.

Name: Christian Sam

Position: Linebacker

Jersey number: 44

Opening day age: 23

Experience: 1

Size: 6’2, 240 lbs.

2018 review: In the sixth round of the NFL’s 2018 draft, Christian Sam heard his name called: the Patriots added him to their linebacker corps with the 178th overall pick. Sam was not guaranteed a spot on New England’s roster given his draft status, but he certainly showcased his talents over the course of the summer and before being placed on season-ending injured reserve during early September’s roster cutdowns.

Appearing in the Patriots’ first three preseason games, Sam was on the field for 61 of a possible 206 defensive snaps (29.6%) while registering 12 tackles and an interception. What stood out most, however, was his usage: New England moved the rookie around the formation on a regular basis, employing him not just as a classic box-linebacker but also as an end-of-the-line defender on select snaps.

Sam was predominately used as a coverage linebacker when on the field, playing 35 snaps in that role. All in all, he was targeted 9 times while surrendering 7 receptions for 38 yards with the aforementioned pick. New England’s coaching staff also used him as a downhill run defender, however, and in pass rushing situations as well. Ultimately, however, the Arizona State product was unable to build on his preseason outing in the regular season.

As noted above, Sam, who also saw regular playing time in the kicking game — he played 42 of 88 snaps (47.7%) over the first three preseason games — was placed on injured reserve as part of New England’s cutdowns: the roster bubble defender had already missed the club’s preseason finale due to an undisclosed injury and was moved to the reserve list shortly afterwards. A week later, Sam shared that he successfully underwent surgery.

2019 preview: After sitting out virtually all of his rookie campaign, Sam was back on the practice fields during the Patriots’ offseason workouts. This is obviously a good sign for him, given a) how his 2018 season ended, and b) the competition he faces at the linebacker position. After all, New England has a deep group of players that currently appears to be ahead of the second-year man on the depth chart.

Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Ja’Whaun Bentley are all locks to make the 53-man roster, after all, with offseason Jamie Collins not far behind them. As a result, a maximum of one spot appears to be open — with Sam fighting against incumbent Elandon Roberts and fellow youngsters Calvin Munson and Terez Hall to get it. His upside as a potential four-down player and his versatility to play multiple linebacker spots should help his case.

However, he still needs to show that he can compete on a consistent level in both the kicking game and on defense. If he has a good training camp and improves his technique and play recognition, he might very well be able to carve out a role on the team. If not, however, Sam could very well get lost in the competition and end up on the chopping block in September before possibly returning on the practice squad.