New England Patriots head coach Jerod Mayo is not done filling out his staff, and the latest hire adds more experience to the defensive side of the ball. Drew Wilkins, a long-time assistant with the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants, will join the Patriots as their outside linebackers coach.
Let’s assess the hire from a big-picture perspective.
The Patriots add a highly-regarded coach to their staff
Wilkins may only be 36 years old, but he has done a lot of coaching after spending 12 years in Baltimore and the last two with the Giants. Along the way, he developed into one of veteran coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale’s most trusted advisors and a highly-regarded coach in his own right.
Under Martindale, Wilkins was responsible not just for coaching outside linebackers — something he did in his final two years in Baltimore and throughout his Giants tenure — but also played a role in designing blitzes and preparing third down packages. New York ranked ninth in the league in 2023 in third down conversion rate (37.0%) while also having the second-highest blitz rate (45.4%) in the NFL.
After he was fired from his position with the Giants, presumably in part due to his status as a “Wink guy” more than one attached to head coach Brian Daboll, there was a belief he would follow Martindale to the University of Michigan or get other opportunities. Turns out that he did in New England.
Dont’a Hightower will have some company in the linebacker room
The Patriots hired three-time Super Bowl champion Dont’a Hightower as a linebackers coach earlier this week. With Wilkins now also aboard as an outside linebackers coach, it appears the two men will split responsibilities while still working closely together — similarly to what the team did the last few years with Jerod Mayo and Steve Belichick, without their quasi-coordinator duties.
The assumption is that Hightower will most closely work with the off-ball group, i.e. the likes of Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jahlani Tavai, Marte Mapu, Raekwon McMillan and pending free agent Mack Wilson, if he returns. Wilkins, meanwhile, will work with Matthew Judon and, if they are re-signed, Anfernee Jennings and Josh Uche.
Another benefit of adding Wilkins is lightening Hightower’s workload. While he does have an impressive résumé, the ex-linebacker will still be a first-time coach in 2024 — one who might benefit from sharing the room with a seasoned coaching veteran.
Wilkins will meet some familiar faces in New England
As noted above, Wilkins spent 12 years in Baltimore and along the way crossed paths with current Patriots defenders Lawrence Guy and the aforementioned Matthew Judon. His connection with Judon in particular is noteworthy: the two worked together for three years between 2018 and 2020, when Judon developed into a Pro Bowl defender.
With the veteran edge defender set to enter a contract year, adding his former position coach to the mix might be a sign of the Patriots’ intentions at the position.
The defensive coaching roster looks complete now...
Now that Wilkins and Hightower have joined the group, the Patriots appear to have their defensive staff finalized. Sure, coaching assistants might still be added to the mix but the core guys are in place and will look as follows:
- Defensive coordinator: DeMarcus Covington
- Defensive line: Jerry Montgomery
- Inside linebackers: Dont’a Hightower
- Outside linebackers: Drew Wilkins
- Cornerbacks: Mike Pellegrino
- Safeties: Brian Belichick
DeMarcus Covington previously worked as defensive line coach, but he was promoted to coordinator last month. His former job went to former Green Bay Packers assistant Jerry Montgomery, one of two hires — the other being Wilkins — with no prior connection to the organization.
Wilkins and Hightower, meanwhile, will jointly coach the linebackers. In that role, they will take over for the aforementioned Jerod Mayo and Steve Belichick; the former is now the Patriots’ head coach and the latter defensive coordinator at the University of Washington.
The secondary, meanwhile, will continue to be led by cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino and safeties coach Brian Belichick.
...and it will be quite young
With the exception of Dont’a Hightower, who appeared in 134 combined NFL games between 2012 and 2021, the Patriots have plenty of coaching experience on their new-look defensive staff. Nonetheless, the group as a whole will be relatively young in 2024.
With the exception of the 44-year-old Jerry Montgomery, all other coaches will be below 40: newly-added Drew Wilkins is 36, DeMarcus Covington 34, Dont’a Hightower 33, Brian Belichick 32, and Mike Pellegrino 30. At an average age of 34.8, the Patriots’ defensive staff projects as one of the youngest in the NFL this season — all while working under a 37-year-old head coach.