The New England Patriots restocked their defensive front seven in free agency and on the second day of the NFL Draft, but the off-the-ball linebacker position still remains a question mark of sorts. While getting Dont’a Hightower back from his Covid-19 opt-out and adding the versatile Matthew Judon and Kyle Van Noy in free agency should help, the long-term outlook at the position remains uncertain.
In that sense, adding Cameron McGrone to the mix in the fifth round of the draft made perfect sense. Like other players in New England’s linebacker room — think: Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings — he has the potential to become a long-term cornerstone within the unit. However, there is no guarantee he will ever live up to his ceiling and bounce back strong after a knee injury prematurely ended his junior season at Michigan.
With that said, let’s take a look at his injury history and find out what it means from the Patriots’ perspective.
2016 (Lawrence Central High School): While McGrone played a tremendous junior campaign in high school and eventually earned All-County honors, he failed to finish the season healthy. The impressive young linebacker tore the ACL in his right knee during his team’s season finale in October. But while the injury did cast some doubt over McGrone’s future in football, he bounced back strong — committing to Michigan and being named to Indiana’s All-State team.
2020 (Michigan): After not suffering any reported injuries during his first two years as a Wolverine, McGrone had to leave the team’s late-October game versus Michigan State in the second quarter. The junior defender suffered an apparent head injury after hitting his head on the turf, and was taken to the locker room. Even though he wanted to return to the game, the doctors did not let him re-enter the contest according to head coach Jim Harbaugh. McGrone was cleared for the following week, however.
A little over four years after tearing the ACL in his right knee, McGrone suffered the same injury in his left. He was unable to finish the November game versus Rutgers with what was later revealed to be another ACL tear. His season was naturally over, while his pre-draft process was also drastically altered: McGrone, who decided not to return for his senior year at Michigan, was unable to do any workouts during his Pro Day.
What this means for the Patriots
Coming off a torn ACL, McGrone’s outlook for the 2021 season is uncertain — something Patriots head coach Bill Belichick acknowledged after his team drafted the defender 177th overall in the fifth round.
“Had a knee injury last year, missed the end of the year,” Belichick said during a post-draft media conference call. “We’re not really sure what the expectation of availability is for him, but we’re prepared certainly to not have him available this year, but we’ll just have to wait and see how that goes. There are no false expectations here. He should have a good recovery and be a good player. We’ll just have to see what the timing is on that.”
Based on Belichick’s statements, McGrone appears to be a prime candidate to start his professional career on the physically unable to perform list: he suffered an injury away from the NFL, and is therefore eligible to be sent there. In turn, the Patriots would have time to keep an eye on his rehabilitation process before deciding whether or not to activate him midway through the season.
New England’s medical experts apparently do not have any long-term concerns about his future, though, which means that his selection in the draft was one with the future in mind. McGrone may or may not be ready for 2021, but he should be good to go next spring unless he suffers any setbacks in his recovery.