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Patriots 2020 roster breakdown: Kyahva Tezino is facing plenty of competition at the off-the-ball linebacker position

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Related: Patriots roster breakdown: S Kyle Dugger

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 19 San Diego State at San Jose State Photo by Larry Placido/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Following the NFL draft and subsequent free agency period, the New England Patriots currently have 89 of a possible 90 players under contract. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns on September 5 and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots keep their dynasty alive in Year One after Tom Brady.

Today, the series continues with one of New England’s undrafted rookie additions.

Hard facts

Name: Kyahva Tezino

Position: Linebacker

Jersey number: TBD

Opening day age: 23

Size: 6-foot-0, 235 pounds

Contract status: Under contract through 2022 (2023 RFA)

Experience

What is his experience? Tezino’s experience in the NFL is virtually non-existent: he only entered the league six weeks ago, when the Patriots signed him as a rookie free agent shortly after the draft. Due to the ongoing Coronavirus crisis, he is therefore not yet attended an on-field workout with his new teammates while only participating in virtual meetings so far. That being said, Tezino does have plenty of competitive football on his résumé from his five-year career at San Diego State.

After redshirting during his freshman campaign, Tezino went on to appear in 48 games for the Aztects, including 31 starts. He originally served as a rotational backup, but by late 2017 had earned a starting role which he held throughout his junior and senior campaigns. During this time, Tezino was named first-team All-Mountain West Conference twice and led his club with a combined 226 tackles — all while also registering 12 sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and being named team captain.

What did his 2019 season look like? Coming off the most productive season of his college career up until that point, Tezino stayed in school for his redshirt senior season. He lived up to the decision by delivering another impressive campaign that saw him earn numerous individual accolades: he was not just named to the first All-Mountain West team for the second year in a row, but also was voted as the Aztecs’ most valuable and most inspirational player. Furthermore, he served as a team captain.

Tezino justified this trust in him by being on the field for all 13 of San Diego State’s games and playing 820 of a possible 826 defensive snaps (99.3%). Along the way, he posted some strong numbers once again: as the team’s starting Mike linebacker, he registered a team-high 99 tackles — including 10.5 for loss — and also notched 3.5 sacks, 21 quarterback hits as well as a combined 6.5 hurries in the passing game. On top of it all, Tezino forced a pair of fumbles and also intercepted two passes.

One of those interceptions came in the team’s New Mexico Bowl appearance against Central Michigan — a game that saw the Aztecs dominate on both sides of the ball in a 48-11 win; and one during which Tezino registered three tackles, including 1.5 for loss, as well as a half-sack on top of his pick. His performance that day earned him Defensive MVP honors that day, and put a fitting cap on his college career.

2020 preview

What is his projected role? Tezino played primarily as a middle linebacker in San Diego State’s 3-3-5 defense and upon entering the NFL is projected to be used in a similar fashion. He therefore projects to bolster the Patriots’ off-the-ball linebacker depth — one that suffered a hit when move option Jamie Collins and Mike linebacker Elandon Roberts both left the team in unrestricted free agency. While Tezino is far from a proven commodity and more of a developmental option at this point in his career, he offers another body at the position.

What is his special teams value? Like most undrafted rookies in New England, Tezino will have to make his living in the kicking game until carving out a regular role in the defensive rotation. How could his usage therefore look like? He might play a role similar to that of then-rookie Chase Winovich in 2019: seeing regular action on punt and kickoff coverage as well as both return units and occasionally field goal and extra point units as well — possibly being among the top-five in special teams snaps.

Does he have positional versatility? While Tezino played both running back and linebacker during his high school career, his usage and versatility as a pro will be limited to the defensive side of the ball. He will primarily play as a middle linebacker in the mold of Roberts, though, with his lack of size making him a potential no-factor on the edge. That said, the 22-year-old could be used not just downhill against the run and as a blitzer but possibly also in coverage.

What is his salary cap situation? When the Patriots brought Tezino on board as a rookie free agent shortly after the draft, they signed him to a standard three-year contract that included a total of $70,000 in guarantees — among them a $10,000 signing bonus. The youngster therefore hits New England’s books with a salary cap number of $613,333 that currently does not qualify him for the top 51 deals that count against a team’s cap during the offseason.

What is his roster outlook? Despite the Patriots’ departures at the linebacker position, Tezino is facing plenty of competition for a roster spot. Not only did New England add considerable talent at the off-the-ball position over the course of the offseason, the team also returns Dont’a Hightower and Ja’Whaun Bentley. While only Hightower as well as versatile Day Two draft picks Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings can be considered roster locks, Tezino needs to quickly show growth and improve his technique to earn a spot alongside them. He could do that, but would probably benefit from a year on the practice squad.