If the New England Patriots want to follow through on one of their patented ruthless moves and let long-time ILB Dont’a Hightower leave a year too early rather than a year too late (OK, fine, maybe it’s already a year too late), they’ll have the pick of the litter to replace him in the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft.
The only difference? Many of the defensive captains at the ILB position in 2022’s class (and beyond) are smaller than the hefty Hightower, weighing in 15 or so pounds lighter.
That hasn’t been a problem in the recent past for the Pats, though, as they’ve committed to several slimmer and speedier LBs to form their new unit (and said goodbye to Kyle Van Noy, an excellent player but a lumbering brute on wheel routes).
With a hole on the interior and the need to develop a new captain (easier said than done), it’s been widely speculated the Patriots will try to add to their LB pool early in 2022’s draft.
Below familiar names like Utah’s Devin Lloyd and National Champion Georgia Bulldog Nakobe Dean, New England could also target the undersized Christian Harris out of ‘Bama (6-0, 226) or go with more of a Hightower-esque figure in Wisconsin’s Leo Chenal, who drills RBs at 6-3 and 250.
Patriots could target ILBs to replace Dont’a Hightower in 2022 NFL Draft.
Let’s laser focus on Chenal for a bit, as every Patriots fan knows about the havoc-causing Dean and Lloyd, both of whom love to sniff out and embrace trouble and both of whom probably won’t be available past the Pats’ first selection.
Chenal’s athleticism, displayed in the pre-draft process, is quite literally off the charts. He’s a big-bodied bruiser who also rushes the passer, ranking third among Big Ten linebackers in pressures since 2020.
Sitting here on Draft Eve, Chenal is still viewed as either a second-rounder or early third-round selection, and consensus claims he could eventually develop into an every-down ‘backer with the right instruction.
Plus, he’s a former three-star who coached himself up and used his collegiate career to prepare for the next level and prove the doubters wrong.
If the Patriots want to spend their top pick on a Hightower replacement with championship pedigree, they certainly might go for Dean or Lloyd. But if they’d like to wait a bit and replace their former captain with superior hustle, that option’s also on the table.
Regardless of which LB the Pats favor, they’ll have numerous chances to fill their need next week instead of extending an olive branch to Hightower for one more go ’round.