PFF expects big things from the Patriots linebackers in 2024

One former Patriots executive expects the team to land the first overall pick in 2025, but is he underestimating the roster?
New England Patriots v Las Vegas Raiders
New England Patriots v Las Vegas Raiders / Chris Unger/GettyImages

Michael Lombardi said he expects the Patriots team to regress in 2024 without Bill Belichick. While that is possible, simply avoiding a repeat of 2023's injury catastrophe will allow them to avoid the same gruesome fate.

It seemed like last year the Patriots set a record by having 17 of the 53-man roster land on injured reserve. This year, like last year, the Patriots have some very highly-rated players; they just need to stay healthy.

How highly rated are the Patriots linebackers for the 2024 season?

Well, first of all, one NFL analyst says the Patriots have a top 5 defense heading into the 2024 season. Now, PFF ranks their linebackers as the fourth-best unit in the league. No pressure, then. 

All four AFC East teams have linebacker groups ranked in the top 20, with the Jets topping the chart. Although PFF does explain that’s because “Dre Greenlaw’s injury pushes the 49ers to No. 2.” If De’Vondre Campbell and Dee Winters stay healthy in San Francisco, their group is still going to lead the league.

What is different about the linebacker roster this year?

There are only three new faces in the Patriots linebacking corps this year, with Sione Takitaki joining the exodus from Cleveland to Foxborough and undrafted free agents Steele Chambers and Jontrey Hunter making it to the start of training camp. 

PFF notes that Takitaki will be a good addition to the team after his career-high 70.7 grade in 2023. However, Chambers looks a little underpowered to make the 53-man roster, and Hunter alternated between inside linebacker and safety in 2023, so the Patriots may not see him as a linebacker. 

But PFF ranks the Patriots linebackers so high on the list because their experienced guys, Jahlani Tavai and Ja’Whaun Bentley, come into the 2024 season in good form. 

Tavai was awarded an 82.7 coverage grade in his third season in New England, and Bentley earned a grade of 65.0 or higher in five of his first six years in the league! 

Tavai and Bentley are inside linebackers. The outlook for the Patriots' outside linebackers is a little murky. Matt Judon and Joshua Uche figure to line up there at the beginning of the season, although Judon wants a new contract, and Uche only played 33% of the snaps in 2023. 

In April, Uche re-signed with the Patriots for less than other teams had offered him, but it’s only a one-year deal, and his place may be under pressure during training camp. 

What's the problem with the high expectations?

The entire Patriots defensive front had a strange 2023 season. Their QB Hurry percentage ranked fourth in the league behind the Lions, Jets, and Chiefs, but they were 27th in the league for sacks. Former Giant Oshane Ximines will be hoping to change that for the better. 

A healthy Marte Mapu would improve the linebacking corps in 2024, too. He may not even be a linebacker, as Kyle Dugger and Ja’Whaun Bentley want you to know he’s a “hybrid.”. But the former Sacramento State Hornet should line up around the line of scrimmage a lot this year. 

Raekwon McMillan would certainly add more depth around the line of scrimmage, too, but he has only started one game since the Patriots signed him in 2022. He missed all of the 2023 season with a partially torn Achilles tendon, which came after he suffered a second ACL tear in four years in 2021. 

There’s no lack of playing talent in the linebacker room, and with Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower, and a former linebacker coaching the special teams, they certainly have knowledgeable coaches. 

They just have to put all the pieces together. So yeah, no pressure guys, no pressure at all. 

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