The linebacking corps is going to look very different for the Patriots in 2020. The “Boogeymen” of yesteryear were split up as three of the top five linebackers cashed in on the groups great 2019 campaign. Kyle Van Noy (4 yr, $51M with Miami), Jamie Collins (3 yr, $30M with Detroit), and Elandon Roberts (1 yr, $2M with Miami) are all gone which leaves Dont’a Hightower and Ja’Whaun Bentley as the lone players returning to the middle of the defense. Here you will see how their roles will change and who they may be playing with come the new season.
Please also make sure to check out all of our previous tiers below:
So, without further ado, here is the linebacking group:
Dont’a Hightower — Dont’a Hightower has been the man in the middle for eight seasons now. His first game wearing the green dot came halfway through his rookie season and he hasn’t relinquished it since. There is no doubt that he is THE GUY. Even Bill Belichick can see it, he called Hightower “Mr. February” at the Super Bowl LIII ring ceremony, referencing Hightower’s knack for making big plays in the Super Bowl.
Josh Uche — Uche has a huge opportunity in front of him. Though he was used mostly as a situational pass rusher in college, he has the chance to take on a role that has churned out success in New England, outside linebacker. In recent years, the Patriots have made do with highly drafted castoffs. Akeem Ayers, Shea McClellin, and Kyle Van Noy all won Super Bowls in New England as random trades and signings to bolster defenses for Super Bowl runs. Now, the Patriots will have the opportunity to mold their own guy for this position. Uche has the opportunity to be a slam-dunk pick for Bill the GM.
Anfernee Jennings — Would you look at that, another pick I freaking nailed! That is three for you folks counting at home. Here was my write-up on Jennings pre draft:
Prior to last years draft I probably wouldn’t have picked a guy like Jennings but the Winovich pick opened up Pandora’s box. Jennings is more of a prototypical 3-4 OLB, but the Patriots play in all sorts of defenses. I would expect him to take Winovich’s spot from last season as a situational pass rusher while Winovich expands his role.
Yes, I said Winovich a lot. This write-up still rings true as I believe Jennings can be an impact player immediately.
Ja’Whaun Bentley — This is an interesting one. Bentley started off with a bang his rookie year, starting two of the first three games between Van Noy and Hightower and playing very well before tearing his biceps to end his first year in the NFL. Then, the Patriots signed Jamie Collins the ensuing offseason and Bentley’s role decreased dramatically. He became the fourth linebacker and rarely saw meaningful playing time. When on the field, he has played well, but the injury and decreased role kept him on the sidelines in 2019. This year, he will have an opportunity to get back on the track he was on so early in his career.
Brandon Copeland — Entering the offseason the Patriots seemed to focus on two things: versatility and competition. They signed and drafted versatile players at positions with lots of competition. Linebacker, maybe more than any other position, projects to have a lot of it. I mention that in Copeland’s section because I believe he fits both molds: he played all three linebacker positions in New York, played his best football on the outside rushing the passer, and also racked up 42 tackles in the middle of the Jets’ defense last season. Calling him a lock may be a stretch, but he feels a lot like the David Harris signing of 2017 — not a great omen, but he is younger and seems to be in a better place. I see him making the team.
Fringe Roster Guys
Cassh Maluia — We’re going to start off by saying Cassh is a baller name and he is a baller on the field. That being said, you can never call a sixth-round pick a lock to make the roster. I believe he’ll compete with Kyavha Tezino and DeJon “Scoota” Harris for the final inside backer job and appears to have an advantage being that he was drafted. Maluia showed some “jack of all trades, master of none” tendencies in college, though. He put numbers up in a ton of different columns but never really stood out as being great at one specific thing. He will have to do that to guarantee himself a spot on the 53-man roster.
Shilique Calhoun (DE) — Calhoun was underwhelming last year. He played in 15 games but never recorded a sack. He’s 28 and only has 0.5 sacks through four seasons in the NFL. He made the roster last year so I can’t count him all the way out, but I just don’t see it happening.
Brandon King — King’s injury last preseason came at a really bad time. He plays exclusively on special teams and went down right before the Patriots had one of their best special teams seasons ever. They also have drafted a large number of players in the past two years who can contribute in the kicking game. That all being said, Nate Ebner held a spot on the team for seven years with absolutely zero value on defense, so who knows. I believe King faces longer odds this year than usual.
Both of these players have full profiles written about them. They are UDFA’s competing for a job that may not even be available. That’s a long shot if I've ever heard one.
Camp Body (No Chance in Hell)
Terez Hall — Hall is a guy who spent time on the practice squad last season. I’m not sure if he can even make it back this season. There are a ton of young players who will take up those spots.
No Chance List
- Brian Lewerke
- Gunner Olszewski
- Sean Riley
- Isaiah Zuber
- Devin Ross
- Najee Toran
- Courtney Wallace
- Terez Hall
That will do it for this episode. We only have three left. Time flies by when you’re having fun I guess. See you next time.