The Patriots have needs all over the field, and one area they need to address in the 2022 NFL Draft next week is outside linebacker/edge. This space has been emphatic that, of all the team’s needs, the first two that should be addressed are wide receiver and offensive tackle (not necessarily in that order). When the time is right, though, OLB depth should be stacked.
The theory here is that the defense won’t be completely overhauled this offseason after a lackluster free agency haul, while the offense, should two key pieces be added, might be ready to rumble big time in 2022 and beat teams just by outscoring them. That would leave six of the Patriots’ current eight picks to address all kinds of needs, especially on defense.
One position in need of a boost (but not in the first round), in addition to the obvious one (cornerback, after the loss of J.C. Jackson) is the linebacking corps, and outside linebacker/edge is crying out for an impact player. These two might fit the bill when the Patriots pick on Days 2 or 3 of the draft next week.
Two middle-round linebackers who could add some pure speed to Patriots
While it’s not certain exactly where these two outside linebackers may emerge in the draft, it’s fairly safe to say it will likely be between the third and fifth rounds. The first to highlight is from the Big Sky Conference — Montana State, to be specific. That would be Troy Andersen.
Andersen is listed at nearly 6-3 ½, 243 pounds, and ran a 4.42 forty-yard dash at the combine. That’s called blistering speed for a linebacker. The Patriots have that proverbial “need for speed” all over the field, and Andersen will deliver it on the outside.
Recent linebacker/edge draftees have done little, leaving plenty of room for a breakout candidate. Chase Winovich, more of a down lineman, Josh Uche, and Anfernee Jennings (recent third or second-round picks) have, for the most part, flopped. It’s time for the Patriots to hit on one, and Andersen just may be that guy. Andersen’s soon-to-be alma mater sure seems to think he’ll make an immediate impact.
Andersen’s size-speed combination indicates that as well. Here’s what NFL.com had to say about this terrific athlete:
"Intriguing “do-everything” prospect with unusual versatility that could see him getting reps in all three phases. Andersen has good size and toughness with the ball in his hands, but he’s transitioned to a full-time linebacker role. However, he’s still inexperienced at the position, which shows in his instincts and technique at that spot. Despite those concerns, he was an extremely productive playmaker, using his physical tools and motor to shine. Teams will likely look to grow Andersen’s linebacker IQ while playing him as a core special-teamer, but he might have potential on packaged plays on offense."
Sounds like a nice option in the third round for a defense-starved team like the Patriots. The thought here is … just go for it.
Patriots have to take a close look at this Minnesota linebacker
Our second option, Boye Mafe is a Minnesota product who might look good in a Patriots uniform. Mafe would certainly fill it out. He measured in at 6-4, 261 pounds, and ran a blistering 4.53 forty at the combine. That’s speed to burn.
His speed at that size means he has the physical ability to set and explode off the edge and chase down running quarterbacks like Josh Allen of the division-leading Buffalo Bills. That’s exactly what the Patriots are looking for.
Esteemed ESPN draft guru Todd McShay likes his pass-rush ability, calling Mafe a “menace” there.
If Mr. McShay is right, Mafe may not be around in the third round. Yet, if he is, the Patriots can complement Matt Judon by adding this speedy pass-rusher on the weak side.
Here’s NFL.com’s overview of the player:
"Mafe’s evaluation requires the evaluator to focus more closely on the flashes than just the play-to-play action. His combination of rare explosive measurables with average fundamentals could make for a perfect storm of rapid development once he gets focused skill work at the pro level. His footwork is average and he lacks desired instincts as a rusher, but pairing efficient hand work with twitchy upper-body power could turn him into a productive rush bully. He has the traits and toughness to develop into an above-average starter as a 4-3 base end."
Mafe again ticks lots of boxes for the Patriots on the outside. Taking a flyer on either Anderson or Mafe in the third round (or trading up a bit to land one of them?) would be just fine here. Either has the potential to be just what the team needs to be better able to contain mobile quarterbacks and set the edge against any other threat.
These aren’t the only two positional possibilities, but if the Patriots land either with their third-round selection (or, even better, their fourth-round pick), Pats fans can feel pretty good about it, at least on paper. And frankly, that’s all any of these young players represent anyway until they get on the field and prove they can play at the NFL level. Either of these two might just do that.