In an effort to put an end to the long-standing question of “Who does he remind me of?” Keagan Stiefel has compiled a list of player comparisons for the New England Patriots’ 2020 draft class. Each will get a pro comparison and a comparison to a current or former Patriot. Now, these rookies are not necessarily going to become those that they are compared to, but they share similarities in terms of playing style.
Super Bowls and late-round special teamers, that’s just what the Patriots do. During its two-decade long dynasty, the organization has spent draft picks on players like Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner, and Elandon Roberts to bolster their special teams groups, who more often than not end up being some of the best in the entire NFL. The man we will talk about today has the chance to be the next in a long line of sleeper picks turned into special teams contributors.
- Cassh Maluia
- Position: Linebacker/Special Teamer
- Height: 6’0”
- Weight: 248 lbs
Although Maluia projects mainly as a special teamer at the next level, he only played in the kicking game during his freshman season at Wyoming. He spent the next three seasons starting as one of the leaders on the Cowboys’ defense.
Before we get to the comps, check out some of his collegiate highlights. pic.twitter.com/fm4Cd39OJJ— keagan (@KeaganStiefel) August 16, 2020
Maluia was very productive at Wyoming, but inconsistency and size concerns suggest that he will have to earn a spot on the Patriots’ roster by way of special teams. You will see that the guys he is compared to did the same, as I will be looking at them mostly based on how their skills can be applied in the kicking game.
- Kamu Grugier-Hill
- Position: Linebacker
- Height: 6’2”
- Weight: 230 lbs
Despite the size difference, Grugier-Hill and Maluia play very similar games. They have high motors and can make plays down the field, while their 40-yard dash times were 4.53 (Maluia) and 4.45 (Grugier-Hill) — both ranking high amongst linebackers in their respective draft classes.
NFL Comp: Kamu Grugier-Hill, LB, Miami Dolphins— keagan (@KeaganStiefel) August 16, 2020
These are two athletic linebackers who at their best, have the ability to make plays from sideline to sideline. pic.twitter.com/HZRrWWm7iC
Grugier-Hill and Maluia even have the same shortcomings on defense.
Both players can use work on their fundamentals as they have tendencies to get caught in a block or over flow on their run fits. You can see that here ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/z5c0NASrv4— keagan (@KeaganStiefel) August 16, 2020
Grugier-Hill, a former sixth-round draft pick by the Patriots who failed to make the team’s roster as a rookie, has made a name for himself as a special teamer, captaining the Philadelphia Eagles’ group in both 2018 and 2019. His best asset in the kicking game is his ability to navigate through traffic, something that Maluia also does very well.
Maluia is expected to make a name for himself where Grugier-Hill has, on special teams. They both share a great ability of weaving in and out of traffic. pic.twitter.com/66c2JFHNCl— keagan (@KeaganStiefel) August 16, 2020
Without seeing much of Maluia on special teams it’s hard to project what he’ll be able to do, but if he can apply the skills he shares with Grugier-Hill he should be able to carve out a nice role for himself.
- Larry Izzo
- Position: Linebacker/Special Teamer
- Height: 5’11”
- Weight: 230 lbs
(There is no footage of Izzo available during his stint in New England as NFL Game Pass only dates back to 2009, therefore we will be looking at his time on the New York Jets.)
Larry Izzo is the OG special team maestro for the Patriots, making three Pro Bowls during his stint in New England. This comparison is therefore based on what I believe Maluia will eventually become, not what he is right now, as well as an argument for where he can fit on special teams.
Maluia is a bigger, faster, and more athletic player than Izzo was, so you would have to believe he’d be a great player to plug in the same spot that Izzo held for so many years, personal protector on the punt team.
Personal protection on the punt team ⬇️ (We love alliteration) pic.twitter.com/0K0q2v6SEJ— keagan (@KeaganStiefel) August 16, 2020
The Patriots lost the man who held that place for the last several years, Nate Ebner, earlier this offseason. Who better than a young guy who can hold it down for the coming seasons?
Another spot the rookie can fill for the Patriots (then I promise i’ll stop talking to you about a late-round special teams prospect) is in the middle of their kickoff return team.
Front middle on kickoff return ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/YdckhHbruN— keagan (@KeaganStiefel) August 16, 2020
I know that the return game has been largely negated in recent years but the NFL saw an uptick in the number of kicks returned last year by a whopping two percent! It is also well known that some teams units have implemented a pooch kick of sorts to force shorter returns. With that it is important that you have a solid frontline on your return team, and Maluia can fill the spot that Izzo used to play.
Maluia is no sure thing in terms of making the final 53. However, he has one hell of an opportunity on special teams — he may even be able to find a role on defense as part of a very young and thin off-the-ball linebacking corps. No team would turn their nose up at an athletic linebacker with a knack for finding the football, especially if he can fine-tune some of the small hindrances in his game.