The New England Patriots altered their defensive legacy when they took Sony Michel over Darius Leonard.
No, this is not another analysis of what the Patriots’ lives would’ve been like if they’d selected Lamar Jackson over Sony Michel.
Jackson, of course, went to Baltimore just one pick after the Pats had turned in their selection, but the “what if” ripple of that decision reverberates far beyond one singular article. Perhaps a frustrated Jackson would be demanding a trade to San Francisco by now, stuck evermore behind the eternal Tom Brady?
No, we’re here to solve the Patriots’ linebacker exodus problem with not only a solid stopgap option, but with a motor who would’ve seized control of the linebacking corps and never looked back in ’18.
If only the Patriots had selected Darius Leonard before he fell to the Colts, we wouldn’t be in this predicament.
Leonard isn’t just a budding superstar; he’s built almost exactly like Dont’a Hightower, who has shown remarkable versatility in his ability to play both middle linebacker and outside linebacker. The Colts’ bounty has been the team’s starting weakside ‘backer ever since his selection at Pick No. 36, the first of two second-rounders Indy possessed back to back (this selection was potentially more impactful than G Braden Smith out of Auburn at 37).
The “Maniac” debuted with a unique fervor, leading the NFL in tackles and making First-Team All-Pro right out of the gate. Imagine if Bill Belichick had managed to get his hands on this Swiss Army Knife?!
Already an NFL Top 100 player by his second year, Leonard isn’t just a special player — he’s an elite talent with an unparalleled mentality. He’s a winner. He’s the driver of his team’s success. While the Patriots’ defense has taken a step back this season, devoid of the assets they once had (Kyle Van Noy, Trey Flowers, temporarily Hightower himself), Leonard would’ve viewed such a predicament as a burden he was willing to carry all his own.
The Patriots thought they were selecting a game-changer in Michel, who unfortunately has not been as effective as his Georgia backfield mate Nick Chubb, and has been surpassed by Damien Harris in his own backfield.
Technically, the Pats did manage to win a Super Bowl with Michel in Feb. 2019, so the pick cannot be called a genuine catastrophe. That team was not powered by the ‘back, though, and James White and Rex Burkhead teamed up to aid that backfield in its development — Michel often picked up the six at the tail end of classic Brady drives.
One year does not a career make, either, and the seasons that have followed have been gloomy for the third-year rusher. Darius Leonard would’ve completely made over a Patriots defense in need of an identity shift; Michel is having trouble just fitting in, at this point.