The New England Patriots have undergone some serious flip-flopping at the linebacker position in the past two seasons. The team boasted the best unit in the game in 2019, employing the likes of Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, and Elandon Roberts.
By the time 2020 came around, none of those four players were working in Foxboro and the group went from a serious strength, to a true liability. Ja’Whaun Bentley, Terez Hall, Josh Uche, and Anfernee Jennings could not capture the same magic as the group in 2019. So what did Bill Belichick do this offseason? He added talent.
The Patriots brought back Van Noy and also signed Matthew Judon and Raekwon McMillan, all to play alongside a returning Hightower. The last thing left to do is address the long term needs at the position. In other words, who is going to replace Dont’a Hightower?
New England could very well answer that question on Thursday with the selection of this man.
Name: Jamin Davis
School: Kentucky (R-Junior)
Opening day age: 22
2020 stats: 10 games; 102 tackles (4.0 tackles for loss); 1.5 sacks; 1 forced fumble; 3 interceptions
Size: 6’3 1/2”, 235 lbs, 33” arms, 9 ½” hands
Workout numbers: 4.47 40-yard dash, 42 vertical jump, 11’ broad jump, 21 bench press reps
Expected round: 1st/2nd
#Patriots Draft Profile Thread: LB #44 Jamin Davis (Kentucky) 6’3” 235 lbs.— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) April 26, 2021
• Athletic freak. 9.93 RAS ranked 15 of 2137 linebackers. (h/t @MathBomb)
• Great in zone coverage. Free mover with superb pursuit ability.
• Physical and elusive run defender. pic.twitter.com/hYOYydAmeh
Strengths: There isn’t a better athlete at linebacker in this draft. In fact, there aren’t many linebackers that have ever been better athletes.
Jamin Davis is a LB prospect in the 2021 draft class. He scored a 9.93 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 15 out of 2137 LB from 1987 to 2021. https://t.co/FsazRT4SmJ #RAS via @Mathbomb pic.twitter.com/GdNYSFFUgf— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 14, 2021
He’s able to pair that unreal athleticism with a great frame. Standing at 6-foot-3 1/2 he’s got the ideal body type to pack on a few extra pounds and mix it up as a true inside linebacker, or continue to play at 235 pounds and fill a more lateral role in the run game, as well as stay on the field during passing situations. Though he’s an off ball linebacker, he still has scheme versatility.
He also has no problem working straight downhill. pic.twitter.com/udljfjgh4l— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) April 26, 2021
A great coverage player, Davis showed out in man as well as zone. His instincts are phenomenal, specifically in zone, where he is allowed to move freely and undercut anything thrown in his vicinity. When tasked with covering tight ends or running backs one-on-one, Davis is a smart, wall-off type player. Meaning he positions his body to control the receiver and run them off their path and sticks with them using that 4.4 speed. He is extremely knowledgeable of how to play against the pass.
Now here are some examples of GOOD coverage. Great job by Evan as always. https://t.co/BV6chn5lwa— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) April 26, 2021
Much like in the passing game, for Davis to play his best he needs to be able to move freely. Think about how the Patriots deployed Jamie Collins in his return in 2019. His pursuit angles and ability to scrape laterally while keeping good leverage are enough to make any high school football coach blush.
Weaknesses: The downside of Davis playing in space so much is the fact that we haven’t seen his play strength tested much. It’s not so much a weakness as it is an unknown, can he keep up with a 330-pound guard in the middle on back to back downs? I don’t think anyone knows the answer to that question.
Another (minor) hole in his game comes from a lack of experience and that is run game recognition. With only 11 career starts under his belt it’s hard to expect Davis to really know how to read his keys like some of the guys with 30+ starts. It’s something that will come eventually but right now he doesn’t read plays well and relies on his athleticism to catch up. At the NFL level his athleticism will be less effective.
What is his special teams value? The first two seasons of Jamin Davis’ career came primarily on special teams. Almost 40% of his total collegiate snaps came on special teams. He worked on the punt unit as well as on kickoff and kickoff return. The big three units that many rookie linebackers, regardless of draft position, find the majority of their first year snaps. His athletic profile and experience help his projection to the next level.
What would be his role in New England in 2021? Well . . . there’s a reason we just told you about his special teams value. Though linebacker is certainly a need for the future, it isn’t right this second. Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Raekwon McMilla, and Terez Hall are all off ball options for 2020. That makes it pretty clear that a rookie linebacker’s playing time will come on special teams.
What would be his role in New England beyond 2021? A top 60 linebacker will absolutely be looked at as a Dont’a Hightower replacement. It’s just not conceivable to think that the Patriots would spend a premium pick on a rotational player. As the Patriots transition into a 3-4 defense, they’ll need to stack up the depth inside, Davis is a great candidate to do so and lead the team into a new era.
Why the Patriots? The second round is often where teams look to grab talent, especially if they have multiple positions of need. If New England grabs their next franchise quarterback in round one, they could look to pick their next franchise cornerback, tackle, or linebacker in round two. Davis could very well be the best player available at pick #46.
Why not the Patriots? The flip side of the previous argument is, how deep of a cornerback and tackle draft this is. Even though it is expected that as many as 10 corners/tackles are drafted. There is talent to be had at the 46th spot.
Verdict: Bill Belichick drafting an athletic freak in hopes to turn him into the next signal caller of his defense? I’ll never say no to that.