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.
The 2020 offseason was hard on the Patriots pass rush. The team lost five players — Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Danny Shelton, and Elandon Roberts — who were responsible for a total of 22.5 of the team’s 40.5 sacks. To help recoup some of that production, New England took two pass rushers in the draft, including the subject of our blog today.
- Anfernee Jennings
- Position: Outside linebacker/EDGE
- Height: 6’3”
- Weight: 252 lbs
This pick has the potential to be a grand slam for the Patriots (you’re damn right I’ve got baseball references.) The Alabama product was extremely productive in his time in Tuscaloosa, and is as tough as they come by returning from a torn PCL and a blood clot less than nine months after his injury in 2017. When Jennings was healthy, he was a game wrecker for the Crimson Tide defense, similar to the two men he will be compared to.
- Harold Landry
- Position: EDGE
- Height: 6’3”
- Weight 252 lbs
First and foremost, the size and speed comparison between Jennings and the current Tennessee Titans linebacker is ridiculous:
NFL Comp: Harold Landry, OLB, Tennessee Titans— keagan (@KeaganStiefel) August 19, 2020
These two measure up unlike any other pair of players I’ve seen. pic.twitter.com/SZxmL1W9WF
On the field, the first thing that jumps out at you is their get-off. Both men possess a deadly first step that gives them one hell of an advantage out of the gate.
When watching them rush the passer I was shocked by how quickly they get vertical. Here are screenshots of where they are at the end of the quarterbacks drop back. pic.twitter.com/WwPLuxS8yx— keagan (@KeaganStiefel) August 19, 2020
Jennings is more of a diverse pass rusher, utilizing a multitude of pass rush moves in his pursuit to the quarterback. Landry, on the other hand, uses a combination of speed, speed, and speed. Both guys are especially fond of their speed rush, and here is an example of both guys using it:
The best trick in these guys bag is the speed rush. Both men have great speed and this is where I see the biggest similarity. Take a look at how quick they can get around an offensive lineman. pic.twitter.com/tG3JHYOkHm— keagan (@KeaganStiefel) August 19, 2020
There are other differences in their game, of course. Notable ones include Landry’s plus in speed, Jennings’ plus in strength, and play recognition. I’d say Jennings has more potential to become a playmaker than Landry has proven himself to be in Tennessee.
- Rob Ninkovich
- Position: Defensive End/EDGE
- Height: 6’2”
- Weight: 260 lbs
Comparing a rookie in his first week of practice to one of the most beloved Patriots of the last decade may be a bit of a risk. Thankfully I’m nothing if not a daredevil.
Jennings is no doubt a better athlete than Rob Ninkovich. He’s faster and quicker in his movements than the long-time Patriot ever was. Everything else in terms of how they play reminds me of each other.
First, I will start with their hands. Both guys are quick, decisive, and violent with their hands. They have the ability to physically move tackles and you can see them use a move where they grab a tackle’s arm to turn him to the side, giving him no chance to recover:
First: Hand Placement, they can manipulate tackles. pic.twitter.com/592LM5hadi— keagan (@KeaganStiefel) August 19, 2020
One thing that really stands out for me is the fact that these guys are disciplined in their rush. Neither guy crosses the tackle’s face until they are even with the quarterback.
One of the biggest problems the Patriots have on defense is against running quarterbacks: pass rushers often work outside then cross the tackle to get inside because it will always be open. The problem with that is that it leaves a wide open lane for the quarterback to get outside of the pocket and use his legs to either extend the play or advance the ball. Ninkovich always excelled at this and it’s something I’ve noticed in Jennings as well.
Another Ninkovich specialty that can be seen in Jennings is that high motor. A lot of Ninkovich’s sacks came from behind as he ran down a quarterback outside of the pocket. Jennings operates in the same way:
Second: Effort, Hugh motors aren’t exclusive to undersized linebackers... pic.twitter.com/mAd9Nlpko9— keagan (@KeaganStiefel) August 19, 2020
*The tweet above was supposed to say “high” but I goofed. Sorry about that.
Lastly, despite popping as pass rushers these guys are complete football players. They play well versus the run…
Third: Versatility in their games. They don’t just rush the passer, they can play the run. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/PndJ16NbYI— keagan (@KeaganStiefel) August 19, 2020
...as well as in coverage:
... and the pass. They’ve both picked off legendary quarterbacks. (2/2) pic.twitter.com/ba5fIW2Thw— keagan (@KeaganStiefel) August 19, 2020
Overall, I think Jennings has a chance to become a contributor on the Patriots’ defense right away. He missed the first few days of training camp so he may be behind the rest of the team’s edge linebackers, but he possesses the tools to be inserted into the lineup early. If all goes well for the remainder of training camp and there is no injury setback, he should have an opportunity to show out like he did at Alabama.