2. Ja’Whaun Bentley
If Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, and Kyle Van Noy are Aramis, Athos, and Porthos – better known as “The Three Musketeers” – then Ja’Whaun Bentley is d’Artagnan, the protagonist and eventual fourth musketeer in Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel.
Drafted by the Patriots in the fifth round last year out of Purdue, Bentley forced his way onto New England’s final roster after an incredible preseason. He originally was slotted in as the third starting linebacker alongside Hightower and Van Noy until a torn bicep ended his rookie season just three games in.
It was indeed an unfortunate development for both Bentley and for the Patriots. The rookie had actually gotten off to a blazing-hot start in the regular season last September, recording 14 tackles (nine of them solo) and even recording an interception off Matthew Stafford in New England’s Week 3 loss to the Detroit Lions.
If it weren’t for Collins returning to Foxborough this past offseason and looking phenomenal all throughout training camp, Bentley probably would have started with Van Noy and Hightower again. But as things stand, Collins has arguably been the best individual player on an incredible New England defense this season, so there’s no way he’s losing snaps anytime soon… not even to a guy as talented as Bentley.
Van Noy and Hightower have also played exceedingly well in 2019, but the latter appears to be battling a shoulder injury. He missed Week 4 against the Bills but returned with a vengeance in Week 5 against the Redskins, only to leave again in the second half Thursday night after re-aggravating the injury once more.
If Hightower misses any time – or for that matter, if any of these three primary linebackers do – Bentley is the obvious beneficiary. He’s still very much a young and ascendant player on this roster, but when he’s on the field, he’s easily one of the more talented tacklers and playmakers for Bill Belichick.
The future is spectacularly bright for this 23-year-old. He should be a mainstay on this defense for many, many years to come.