After suffering some high-profile losses during the offseason, the New England Patriots’ linebacker group struggled through its 2020 campaign. In order to avoid a similar outing this year, Bill Belichick and company took to free agency: Matthew Judon and Kyle Van Noy were signed to bolster the edge, while a former second-round pick was also brought aboard to help improve the off-ball depth alongside the returning Dont’a Hightower.
That former second-round draft choice is Raekwon McMillan, who arrived in New England via a one-year, $1.2 million deal. McMillan is not a lock to make the roster considering his contract, but his upside in the Patriots’ system is intriguing even though he never quite lived up to it in four combined seasons with the Miami Dolphins and Las Vegas Raiders.
Injuries have been a reason for that. Let’s therefore take a closer look at his medical history to find out what it all means from New England’s perspective.
2017 (Dolphins): On his very first NFL snap, McMillan suffered an injury that robbed him of his entire rookie season and changed the course of his career. Playing on Miami’s punt coverage team during the preseason opener versus the Atlanta Falcons, the youngster collided with teammate Deon Lacey and tore the ACL in his right knee. The Dolphins eventually placed McMillan on injured reserve in early September. After spending the 2017 season on the sidelines, he was medically cleared for organized team activities the following offseason.
2019 (Dolphins): After an injury-free 2018 season, McMillan popped up on the practice report again in mid-November 2019. He was limited all week leading up to Miami’s game versus the Buffalo Bills, and ended up missing the contest due to a sprained knee. McMillan was able to return the following week, however, and ended up playing a season-high 66 defensive snaps.
Five weeks after his knee ailment, McMillan got hurt again. He suffered a hamstring injury in the second half of the Dolphins’ Week 15 contest versus the New York Giants. With only two games remaining on the schedule, Miami decided to shut him down for the rest of the year: McMillan was sent to injured reserve to end two of three NFL seasons on the sideline.
What this means for the Patriots
When looking at McMillan’s career simply from the perspective of trips to IR it is easy to put the “injury prone” label on him. However, his story is much more nuanced than that. For one, he spent his entire three-year college career at Ohio State without missing a game. While that does not necessarily mean he was fully healthy throughout his time as a Buckeye, it does show that there are no nagging injury concerns on his résumé.
The ones he suffered in the NFL, meanwhile, were freak accidents as well. His ACL tear as a rookie happened on a bang-bang play, while his knee and hamstring ailments during the 2019 season were not of the major variety (even though the latter led to Miami placing him on IR).
The main question for the Patriots in regards to McMillan is not related to his availability, but rather his performance. After so-and-so stints in Miami and Las Vegas, will a change of scenery help him live up to the potential he showed in college?