Middle & Outside Linebacker
The New England Patriots lost a huge chunk of their defense when they parted ways with Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy in free agency.
There isn’t anyone coming into New England that will be taking Dont’a Hightower’s job from him anytime soon. Every year there are rumors that he’s falling apart, and he continually proves everybody wrong. This defense has been designed around Hightower for a long time … and that’s the way it’s going to remain for years to come.
Ja’Whaun Bentley and Shilique Calhoun have both put in the time and have earned the right to be the second middle linebacker next to Hightower. But there are a lot of versatile players surrounding the position that could also find themselves playing next to Hightower in the middle of the defense.
With that being said, the Patriots drafted Josh Uche in the second round out of Michigan — who I believe is going to make an immediate impact this year for the Patriots and work his way up to becoming a starter. Uche, like many of his teammates, can play all over the field in various positions for the Pats.
Another player who I believe is going to make an immediate impact this year as well is third-round draft selection Anfernee Jennings out of Alabama.
Jennings is versatile and athletic enough to play all over the field, but I think he’s going to be utilized most and become interchangeable as a defensive end and outside linebacker. It’s worth mentioning he is coming from a very similar defense in Alabama that teammate Dont’a Hightower specialized in — and one that Bill Belichick is a huge fan of.
Lastly, the Pats have a group of players capable of playing in different roles in various situational positions. Second-year linebacker Chase Winovich and newly acquired free agent Brandon Copeland are versatile players that can capably move around the entire defense from down on the end of the line to either in the middle or outside linebacker positions.
It’s worth mentioning too that the Patriots also selected Caash Maluia in the sixth round of the draft this year. At 6’0 and 248 lbs, Maluia has the profile and the makings of becoming the typical linebacker the Patriots strive to have on their team.