The New England Patriots haven’t kept it much of a secret, they want to get more explosive on defense. Last month, inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo admitted that the team was looking to get faster as such. It was relatively jarring, we’re not used to hearing anyone from inside the organization divulge any trade secrets after all. So what exactly did he say?
“You always want to get faster, especially in today’s game. That’s at all spots, not only at linebacker or defensive line or in the backend...” Mayo said during an appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Zolak & Bertrand. “Also through the draft and through free agency we’ll definitely look to get faster, look to get more explosive, and look to put more playmakers on the field.”
There’s no mincing words in that statement. New England wants to add some athletes, and they’ve already done so with their trade for former Cleveland Browns linebacker Mack Wilson. They reminded us of how much they value the big bodied run stuffer in the middle with their re-signing of Ja’Whaun Bentley. So let’s take a look at a player that can bring a blend of both size and athleticism to the table.
Name: Brandon Smith
School: Penn State (Junior)
Opening day age: 22
2021 stats: 12 games; 81 tackles (45 solo), 2.0 sacks, 9.0 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble
Size: 6’4”, 250lbs
Expected round: 2nd
#Patriots Draft Target Thread: LB Brandon Smith (Penn State) 6’3” 240lbs— Ryan Spagnoli (@Ryan_Spags) January 28, 2022
Smith is one of the most athletic linebackers in the class. 4.4 speed that has drawn similarities to Micah Parsons. Versatile player that can contribute as a pass rusher, in the run game and in coverage. pic.twitter.com/bCSXIErZ0q
Strengths: Brandon Smith is an explosive athlete. Following the combine, focus tends to be placed on those who stood atop the leader boards of each individual test. Who had the fastest forty? Who jumped the highest? While the answer to those questions are all different, there was one player who consistently found himself in the top five: Brandon Smith. Here’s a look at his combine numbers and where they ranked amongst all linebackers.
- 40-yard dash: 4.52 (T-4th)
- Vertical: 37.5” (T-5th)
- Broad: 10’8” (T-4th)
At 6’3 240lbs, Smith has the size NE typically looks for in their LB’s that has the ability to cover TE’s and RB’s at the next level. While the #Patriots look to get quicker/more athletic along their front seven, Smith is an easy target to solve that. pic.twitter.com/YZu089rzE3— Ryan Spagnoli (@Ryan_Spags) January 28, 2022
Something you fail to find in most athletes at the second level is physicality. Usually you have to take one or the other, but with Smith you get both. He plays fast and he plays downhill. With a hunter’s mentality, Smith was able to uncover some of his raw talent and produce for the Nittany Lions’ defense as both a run defender and a pass rusher. In coverage, he’s smooth and physical. The raw ability has never been a question for this player.
Smith is a player that is going to see his draft stock rise over the next few months due to how well he’ll test. More of an athlete than a LB right now, but has all the tools to develop into a future superstar. pic.twitter.com/lnuCUxXkpo— Ryan Spagnoli (@Ryan_Spags) January 28, 2022
Weaknesses: After the way I described him above, you may be wondering why Brandon Smith isn’t a first rounder. It all has to do with untapped potential. He’s got all of the physical tools that I outlined above, but his instincts and functional strength just aren’t there yet.
Luckily for any team that may be looking to draft him, Smith’s main deficiencies are things that can be developed with time. The unfortunate thing about that is that many teams do not have the time to wait for him to be ready.
What would be his role? As we’ve noted with most linebacker prospects so far, it’s unlikely that New England would place much responsibility on the shoulders of Smith early on. They know that he’s good at getting downhill and being aggressive, so if he were to play much early on it would probably be in a sub role until he was ready to take over the middle of the defense full time.
Does he have positional versatility? He’s a linebacker. Whether you want to put him on the ball or off, that’s up to you. I’d say the answer to this question is yes because the responsibilities from those two spots are so different, but you’re not going to have this guy put his hand in the dirt.
Who’s his competition? Remember Cameron McGrone? He was New England’s fifth round pick last season who didn’t play while recovering from a torn ACL. He’s a very similar player to Smith in terms of athletic and physical makeup, so if they were to end up on the same roster I would assume they’d be competing for the same job.
Why the Patriots? If New England’s offseason focus truly is all about getting more athletic on the defensive side of the ball, you’re not going to find many players who are better served to help you do that than Smith.
Why not the Patriots? The Patriots already did this. They drafted a player that they knew wouldn’t be ready in year one in Cameron McGrone. He spent a full year learning New England’s system while building his body to meet the needs of the NFL. Why do that all over again? I don’t know if it’s worth it.
Verdict: I’m sure Smith will be a solid player at the next level. I don’t know think it will be with the Patriots. Give Cameron McGrone, Raekwon McMillan, or any of the number of youngsters on the roster a chance. Following the additions of Mack Wilson and Ja’Whaun Bentley, I don’t see a union between New England and Brandon Smith coming to fruition.