The New England Patriots’ quest to solidify their special teams unit after a disappointing 2022 season saw another investment on Friday. Chris Board, arguably the top option available on the open market, was brought in on a two-year contract.
Board offers a mix of experience, proven quality and positional versatility — his potential contributions as a linebacker should not go unnoticed either — and as such could develop into a valuable member of the team in 2023. So, with that said, let’s take a closer look at him.
Name: Chris Board
Position: Off-the-ball linebacker/Special teamer
Opening day age: 28
Size: 6-foot-2, 239 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2024 (2025 UFA)
After appearing in 57 games over a five-year career at North Dakota State, Board did not neither his name called in the 2018 NFL Draft nor immediately thereafter. The rookie free agent had to wait a full month before getting an opportunity, signing a free agent deal with the Baltimore Ravens. After seeing extensive action in all five preseason games that year, he made the Ravens’ 53-man roster and never looked back: over his four years with the team, he appeared in 67 games as a core special teamer and backup linebacker.
After the restricted free agent deal he had signed with Baltimore in 2021 expired, Board took his talents to Detroit. His one season with the Lions was more of the same: seeing action in all 17 of his new club’s games, he played primarily on special teams — leading the club with 359 snaps (79.6%) — and as a rotational option at the linebacker position. All in all, Board’s NFL experience does not just include 84 games but also 72 and 45 tackles on defense and special teams, respectively, as well as 2.5 sacks and a pair of forced fumbles.
What is his projected role in New England? Throughout his career, Board has served as both an off-the-ball linebacker and a five-unit performer in the kicking game. While it is possible that he will rotate in and out of the lineup on the defensive side of the ball in New England as well, the focus will likely be on a special teams that, as noted above, had some rough moments in the 2022 season.
Does he have positional versatility? Board’s versatility on defense is somewhat limited, with a vast majority of his snaps coming off the ball. That said, within that role he has shown an ability to both attack downhill as a run defender or pass rusher and drop back into coverage. As far as special teams, he has proven himself capable of wearing multiple hats.
What is his special teams value? Board is a five-unit special teamer, who saw considerable action last season regardless of how he was used. Most of his snaps came on kickoff coverage (94) and kickoff return (87), but he also was a core member of the Lions’ field goal and extra point blocking unit (75) as well as the punt coverage (55) and punt return (48) squads: he served as a protector on the punt team, as well as a pressure player on punt returns.
What does it mean for New England’s salary cap? Board signed a two-year, $5 million contract with the Patriots that will not have too big an impact on New England’s books in 2023. His $2.1 million cap hit for the upcoming season is in the ballpark of fellow backup linebackers Jahlani Tavai ($2.26M), Mack Wilson ($1.6M) and Raekwon McMillan ($1.59), and overall the 27th-highest on the Patriots’ current roster.
What does it mean for New England’s draft outlook? Adding Board to the equation improves the Patriots’ off-the-ball linebacker depth, but it will not prevent the team from still addressing the position. After all, he and Jahlani Tavai are the only players under contract beyond the 2023 season. Adding a developmental option with starter potential on Day 2 or Day 3 could still be in the cards for New England.
One-sentence verdict: Board should make an immediate impact on the Patriots’ special teams group, and any contributions on defense should be seen as a bonus rather than a necessity.
Instant grade: A-
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