The New England Patriots Player Profiles series continues with a pass rusher buried on the defensive end depth chart in Marcus Benard, who once led the Cleveland Browns in sacks. Benard, however, never played a snap of football last season, despite being worked out by the Arizona Cardinals and Oakland Raiders. The 27-year-old Jackson State product dislocated his elbow in the preseason while with the Browns last year, and he was released in October on an injury settlement.
Benard, who was once involved in a motorcycle accident and hasn’t played since that incident, signed with the Patriots in late January on a futures contract, and the 6’2″, 256 pound DE has a chance to make the New England Patriots roster. The fact that he once had 7.5 sacks in a season plays in Benard’s favor, but his biggest asset is probably his scheme versatility. In the Patriots 4-3, Benard fits best as a defensive end, but he could easily be a 3-4 OLB.
What is of the greatest concern with Benard is his ability to contribute, because he hasn’t played since 2011 and hasn’t been effective since the 2010 season. Benard played in just four games in 2011 with three tackles, but he had a combined 42 tackles and 11 sacks in 21 games in his first two seasons.
I’m looking at the grades on the Pro Football Focus for Benard in the 2010 season, and the data is quite impressive. While with the Browns, Benard slotted in as a 3-4 OLB (most likely his more natural fit of the two), and he was a highly effective pass rusher with seven sacks, 11 QB hits, and 15 hurries. He was also mediocre against the run and in coverage, which means that he wasn’t one of those 3-4 OLBs whose success as a pass rusher is undermined by ineffective play in coverage and against the run. A former undrafted free agent, Benard’s numbers in 2009 and 2011 are decent in small sample sizes.
When healthy, Marcus Benard was an effective pass rusher who wasn’t a bad run defender or a liability in coverage. Although I don’t have him making the 53-man roster, I view Benard as an underrated player who is something of a sleeper to make the roster. The New England Patriots are crowded enough as is at defensive end, and that’s the position which will have a huge position battle come training camp. Benard is stuck in a crowded situation and is an unlikely candidate, but he is better than some people think and has a good track record as a pass rusher. I mean, how many backup DLs on the Patriots once had 7.5 sacks in a season?
It’s going to be interesting to see how he fares out as a DE against the run and as a pass rusher, but Benard’s scheme versatility and past production are going for him. He will need to have an amazing camp in order to crack the roster, but it isn’t impossible to envision Benard doing that. Looking back, the New England Patriots decision to sign him to a futures contract was smart, because he is a worthwhile reclamation project for this team in training camp.
For more New England Patriots player profiles, check out our running list.