The performance of their linebacker group was one of the big reasons why the New England Patriots’ defense ended the 2019 season as the number one scoring unit in football. However, it suffered some major losses during free agency: Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts joined the Miami Dolphins, while Jamie Collins opted to sign with the Detroit Lions. The Patriots did acquire Brandon Copeland, but it is obvious that they would benefit from bolstering the depth at the position through this week’s draft.
Luckily for the Patriots, linebacker is one of the deeper positions available this year, which bodes well for the team in case it plans to add more youth to its current personnel. One of the most intriguing players is LSU’s Patrick Queen: despite being a one-year starter, the youngster quickly shot up draft boards due to his performance on the national champions --and should also be on New England’s radar in one of the early two rounds.
Let’s therefore take a closer look at him:
Name: Patrick Queen
School: LSU (junior)
Opening day age: 21
2019 stats: 15 games; 780 snaps; 182 tackles (12.0 tackles for loss; 13 missed tackles); 1 fumble recovery; 16.0 quarterback pressures (3.0 sacks, 4 hits, 9 hurries); 33 passing targets, 24 receptions, 2 touchdowns given up, 1 interception, 2 pass breakups
Size: 6002, 229 lbs, 10.0 hand size, 31.63 arm length
Workout numbers: 4.5 40-yard dash, 1005 broad jump, 35.0 vertical jump; 18 bench press reps
Expected round: Late 1st-Early 2nd
Patriots pre-draft meeting: Scouting combine
Strengths: Despite turning only 21 in August and having started just 16 games during his three years at LSU, Queen has the diagnosing skills of a veteran: he reads his offensive keys in an instant and rarely is caught out of position on misdirection plays — all while having the reactionary athleticism to make decisions in an instant. His combination of football intelligence and short-area quickness makes him a high-upside player that should find immediate success at the next level regardless of scheme.
In general, Queen has the athletic makeup of a modern NFL linebacker. He possesses outstanding range from the inside/middle linebacker spot and is not just capable of covering sideline-to-sideline, but also very smooth when dropping into zones. He moves his hips fluidly and has a good feel for routes. His straight-line speed — he ran the 40-yard dash in an impressive 4.5 seconds at the scouting combine in late February — also helps and should make him a weapon as a coverage linebacker and a second-level blitzer.
Furthermore, Queen does not shy away from bringing a physical edge to the game. He is vicious when playing downhill and not afraid of laying a hit, all while keeping his motor running even when not instantly in a position to make a play. In short: Queen is a tone-setter.
Weaknesses: The first thing that stands out when looking at Queen is his size: he was measured at just 6-foot-0 and 229 pounds at the combine, making him undersized from a traditional linebacker perspective. His lack of bulk and length might limit his positional usage at the next level, and also make it hard to project him as a downhill defender when going against NFL-caliber blockers — especially because he also has inconsistent playing strength. While he is a fierce player, this could pose a problem.
Furthermore, Queen is a bit raw around the edges. His lack of starting experience shines through every now and then, as he tends to be too aggressive from time to time: instead of going for the wrap-up tackle, he oftentimes goes for the kill-shot which in turns allows offensive players to shake free. He also needs to get more consistent when it comes to taking angles, as he has a tendency to overshoot his gaps because he trusts his undoubtably superb instincts too much.
What would be his role? Queen’s terrific athleticism and impressive processing skills make him a candidate to earn a starting role as soon as his rookie year. How would it look like? Based on his time at LSU, when he served as an inside linebacker in the team’s 3-4 scheme, he projects favorably in a similar role at the next level — be it as a true Inside/Mike/middle linebacker in either 3-4 or 4-3 alignments, or as more of a move defender in the mold of ex-Patriot Jamie Collins. No matter the role, he should see regular snaps from the get-go. On top of it, he could also serve as the next man up behind Dont’a Hightower as New England’s defensive on-field signal caller.
How many downs can he play? If you want an every-down linebacker, Queen is your guy. He has the physicality and downhill diagnosing skills to successfully attack the pocket from the second level in the running game, but also offers the sideline-to-sideline speed to succeed as a coverage defender no matter if used in zone or man-coverage schemes. Add that he could also have an impact in the kicking game and you get a potential four-down defender.
What is his special teams value? Queen’s special teams usage will be dictated by his defensive role and playing time, but he has the high motor and football IQ to carve out a kicking game role early in his career. It would therefore be possible that his contributions in the game’s third phase look somewhat like Jamie Collins’ in 2019: the veteran registered 2019 snaps on special teams — ninth most on the team — despite also seeing a high number of defensive snaps as a starting linebacker. A similar usage could bin Queen’s future as well.
Does he have positional versatility? His lack of size could limit his versatility at the next level from a positional perspective: Queen is better suited to play off the ball, where he can take advantage of his range and reactionary skills, rather than down on the line of scrimmage. He does offer a varied skillset within this role, however, and can be successful as both a run defender and when asked to drop into coverage.
Will his role change from Year One to Year Two? Queen should play more than 85% of all defensive snaps as soon as his rookie campaign, so there is only limited room for growth in this regard. What could still change, though, is where the team eventually opts to line him up: if he can improve his upper-body strength and become a more patient tackler, he could see more action as an end-of-the-line player in the mold of Kyle Van Noy. At the moment, this usage does not play into his strengths just yet.
Which current Patriots will he have to beat out? Considering that he is expected to come off the board as early as Day one, Queen would be a lock to make New England’s 55-man roster. That said, he would still have to compete for playing time against the other off-the-ball linebackers currently with the team. As a result, the rookie would go up against Brandon Copeland, Ja’Whaun Bentley and Terez Hall for the honor of carving out a role in the starting lineup alongside Dont’a Hightower. Queen would be the favorite to win it, though.
Why the Patriots? When the Patriots lost Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, they did not just lose considerable experience but also two of the best athletes on their roster: both were dynamic players capable of making an impact against the run and the pass. While differently built than the two veterans, Queen would be able to offer some of the same upside and give New England a modern linebacker with considerable upside to use alongside Dont’a Hightower. With Queen in the lineup, Hightower would be free to play the more versatile Van Noy/Collins role moving forward.
Why not the Patriots? Historically, the Patriots have preferred their linebackers to be bigger in order to properly hold their ground in the team’s two-gap defensive system. Queen, on the other hand, measures at just 6-foot-0 and 229 pounds. While this makes him a prototype for the modern NFL linebacker, it does make him a somewhat odd fit for New England’s defense under Bill Belichick. Furthermore, Queen could come off the board before the team might be willing to invest in him given his frame and relative lack of experience.
Verdict: While Patrick Queen may not look like your typical Patriots linebacker from a size-perspective, he does have plenty of tools that would make him a very good fit for the team’s defense: his diagnosing skills are off the charts, and he has the athleticism to make an immediate impact on New England’s defense in lieu of Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins leaving. If the Patriots want to go defense in Round One, picking the LSU product certainly would be a somewhat curious but by no means a wrong choice. He could very well thrive in New England.