Patriots: Anfernee Jennings’ comments on defensive scheme proves he could make impact right away

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Patriots LB Anfernee Jennings could contribute in a big way as a rookie.

It’s been regurgitated numerous times over the last several months, but the New England Patriots are going to need players to step up in 2020. The roster turnover they underwent this offseason was simply too significant for them to rely solely on the production of standout players.

Not only did the team lead the NFL with eight player opt-outs amid the coronavirus pandemic, but they also lost several starters from last campaign to free agency. New England getting production from their incoming draft class would really go a long way in helping the cause, and the latest buzz out of training camp suggests that might be the case.

Patriots fans shouldn’t be surprised if rookie linebacker Anfernee Jennings plays a role similar to that of Dont’a Hightower, who opted out of the season following the birth of his son.

Though it was undoubtedly a group effort, Hightower was arguably the most important player on the Patriots league-leading defense last season. The two-time Pro Bowler started 15 games while playing 72% of the defensive snaps, across which he posted 71 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 13 QB hits and four passes defensed. While impressive, those stats don’t begin to tell the whole story of his impact.

We’re not saying that Jennings will replicate those numbers, but the fact that he’s been studying Hightower on film and playing snaps at his position during training camp indicates that he could contribute in a big way in Year 1.

Across four years at Alabama, the 2020 third-round pick was primarily utilized as a hybrid linebacker/pass rusher. In 48 games, he compiled 98 tackles, 33.5 of which came for a loss, 14.5 sacks, 18 passes defensed and three forced fumbles.

His experience with the Crimson Tide under Nick Saban has prepared him for this moment. He’s apparently been watching film on Hightower and the Patriots defense for years, which could make for a seamless transition. From one legendary coach to the next!

The Patriots’ rookie class has a ton of potential, but Jennings’ comments suggest he could be the most productive of the talented bunch in 2020. Nobody is capable of replacing Hightower, but the Crimson Tide product could certainly help them get by in his absence.

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