New England Patriots middle linebacker Brandon Spikes is heading into the final year of his rookie deal, and he still needs to prove to the Patriots and to the NFL that he is a true three-down linebacker. That is, if Spikes wants to get a big payday. Spikes worked out on his own instead of heading over to OTAs, and his goal is to become more athletic and, thus, better in coverage in order to be that three-down LB. It’s no secret that Spikes struggles mightily in coverage, but sometimes we get too caught up in that and don’t take the time to appreciate how amazing of a run-defender Spikes is.
Despite only playing in three of the last five seasons (the bare minimum to qualify for these rankings), Brandon Spikes is the Pro Football Focus’s fourth-highest graded run defender among linebackers (this includes all 4-3 LBs and 3-4 ILBs) over the past five seasons. That is quite an honor, and it is a testament to Spikes’s aggressive playing style. Spikes is one of the most vicious and explosive linebackers in the NFL, and he’s certainly a game-changing player on run defense. I also enjoy watching Spikes blitz up the middle when allowed, and he reminds me of Arizona Cardinals LB Daryl Washington (great run defense, can blitz, but is poor in coverage).
Spikes was ranked ahead of the likes of Ray Lewis and Derrick Johnson in run defense, and that is nothing to sneeze at, especially given how precise PFF’s grades are. However, Lewis and Johnson are far superior to Spikes in coverage (Lewis was sixth in coverage and overall, while Johnson was third overall), and one can only imagine how great Spikes could be if his coverage improves. He is easily one of the game’s elite linebackers against the run, and Spikes is a catalyst for the Patriots defense. When you watch the Pats against the run, you can tell that Spikes gives this team a real edge, and he proved that he belongs after staying healthy in his third year in the league. Spikes is a dominant player against the run (fourth-highest in three of five years is alarmingly good), but the onus will definitely be on his pass coverage heading into the final year of his deal.