Jermaine Cunningham may help solidify the OLB position. Photo by Jared Wickerham

Patriots Position Audit: Outside Linebacker


Until the NFL and the players put aside their difference and realize how much the game means to fans, the players will be locked out and free agency is on hold. Litigation between the league and the players is set to be heard in court on April 6. The draft will take place no matter what, but hopefully there is a new CBA before then. In the meantime, I’ll evaluate each position on the Patriots’ current roster and look at potential draft picks or free agents (should a new CBA be in place) that could be brought in to improve the position or add depth. Today’s position audit looks at the outside linebacker position.

Current Players on the Roster:

  • Tully Banta-Cain, Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham, Marques Murrell, Eric Moore

Position Strength:

  • Weak

Position Depth:

  • Moderate

Position Need:

  • High

Possible Free Agent Pick-Ups:

  • *Ray Edwards, *Matthias Kiwanuka, *Adewale Ogunleye, others possible via trade

Possible Draft Picks:

  • *Cameron Jordan (California), *Ryan Kerrigan (Purdue), *Aldon Smith (Missouri), *Chris Carter (Fresno State), Akeem Ayers (UCLA), Justin Houston (Georgia)

*Indicates players who have played DE but project to OLB in a 3-4 defense.

Analysis:

Just like last offseason, the outside linebacker position is the top need for the New England Patriots. It’s better than it was last offseason, but the team still lacks a reliable outside pass rusher. There’s not a ton of strength at the position, with last season’s rookie Jermaine Cunningham the top player at the position. Cunningham, before an injury slowed him down towards the end of the season, was looking like he could be a solid starter on one side. Opposite him though is a platoon of solid depth players but no real starter in the bunch. Banta-Cain didn’t hold up as well as he did in 2009 with increased playing time, and Rob Ninkovich showed flashes but is not an every down player. Eric Moore was added late in the season and could be a sub rusher in certain situations.

The only free agents the Pats have a shot at would be guys who have played mostly defensive end but would project to OLB in the Pats’ 3-4 defense. The most intriguing prospects were franchised and signed their franchise tenders. Oakland’s Kamerion Wimbley, KC’s Tamba Hali, Pittsburgh’s LaMarr Woodley, and Minnesota’s Chad Greenway were all franchise and signed their tenders. The Patriots do have the ammunition to trade for one of those linebackers, but they’d also have to come to terms on a new long-term contract with the player. That’s unlikely to happen due to their likely asking price, what the Pats would have to give up in a trade, and a move like that’s impact on negotiations with Logan Mankins. Now if a team wanted to do a player-for-player swap fro Mankins…

The Patriots will likely look to the draft once again to fill their need for an outside pass rusher. The prospects tied to the Pats all are guys who mostly played DE in college but project to OLB in the Pats’ defense. It makes life tougher on the Pats having to project a player because you never really know, but there are certainly plenty of blue chippers to choose from. Aside from projecting, the Pats could go for pure linebackers Akeem Ayers from UCLA or Justin Houston from Georgia. Ayers made his mark in college as a pass rusher while Houston has some 3-4 experience, making him a little more enticing, or at least easier to project. The Pats, even if they stand pat with their picks (no pun intended), could likely make a killing filling needs due to the depth of prospects at positions of need. Or, they could trade up and try and snag someone they consider a “can’t miss” player. Cal’s Cam Jordan and Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan are prime candidates for such a move.

Previous Position Audits:

Next Patriots Game View full schedule »
Thursday, Aug 2828 Aug7:30at New York GiantsBuy Tickets
Dick's Sporting Goods presents "Hell Week":

Tags: Jermaine Cunningham New England Patriots NFL Outside Linebacker Patriots Roster Rob Ninkovich Tully Banta-Cain