Heading into the 2022 NFL Draft, the five most accurate mock drafters of the past five years all had the New England Patriots select a linebacker in the first round. Not only did the team not draft the two mentioned — Devin Lloyd and Nakobe Dean — they ended up not taking a player at the position at all.
They did add one linebacker in rookie free agency, signing undrafted Purdue edge DaMarcus Mitchell, but in general left the position group as it was entering draft weekend. Why? The way the board fell might have had an impact on it, but the linebackers currently under contract with the Patriots also cannot be disregarded.
New England director of player personnel Matt Groh said so himself when he claimed that he would be “really excited” about the group.
Also sharing this level of confidence is a member of the group in question: Mack Wilson, who was acquired by the Patriots via trade earlier this offseason and who projects to play a prominent role for the team this season.
“Obviously, the front office and Coach [Bill] Belichick seem very confident in the guys we have in the room now. Obviously, I feel as confident as well,” Wilson said during a media conference call on Tuesday. “We have some great guys in there. We just have to continue to build this thing, continue to put everything together.
“Obviously, it’s early. So, we have time to build everything and see what everybody can do, basically. Obviously, everybody has a different kind of skillset, but Coach [Jerod] Mayo will do a great job with putting guys in a position to make plays regardless.”
A fifth-round draft choice by the Cleveland Browns in 2019, Wilson showed plenty of promise as a rookie but saw his opportunities go down each of the next two seasons. With his defensive playing time share going from 88 percent to 43 and finally down to 21, the writing was on the wall.
The Patriots were a willing trade partner and acquired Wilson in exchange for fellow linebacker Chase Winovich in mid-March. Whether or not the 24-year-old can get his career back on track in a new environment remains to be seen, but he already feels right at home in New England.
His connection with former Alabama teammates Mac Jones, Damien Harris, Christian Barmore and Anfernee Jennings might have played a role in this.
“The day I set foot in the locker room I just got that vibe — it was like a brotherhood welcoming me in with open arms. I was super comfortable, kind of knew some of the guys Wilson said.
“It’s been nothing but fun and blessings at this point. Obviously, it’s only going to get better as we build this foundation and continue to just take it one day at a time.”
Besides Wilson, the Patriots’ off-the-ball linebacker group features veterans Ja’Whaun Bentley and Raekwon McMillan as well as second-year man Cameron McGrone; those four are the projected top options at the moment. The aforementioned Anfernee Jennings as well as Jahlani Tavai, Harvey Langi and Terez Hall provide depth behind them.