*Disclaimer: We classify off-the-ball linebackers as all 4-3 linebackers and 3-4 inside linebackers
Current Situation: The starters at the moment are Ja’Whaun Bentley and Dont’a Hightower, with Terez Hall as the only real backup.
Level of Need: High
SHS Take: The Pats’ linebacker room looks like Grand Central Station during the Coronavirus pandemic: Completely barren. Listing Hightower as a starter is a stretch, as he rotates between the edge and inside, leaving Bentley as the only real linebacker on the roster. Bentley had an excellent start to his career in 2017 before a pectoral tear ended his season. The following year, conditioning issues and the emergence of Jamie Collins eliminated Bentley’s role. I expect a sizable increase in Bentley’s role in 2020 but they still need multiple bodies to come in and fill the roles left by Elandon Roberts, Collins, and Van Noy. I’d expect at least two linebackers taken at some point.
Early Round Fits
Patrick Queen – Junior, LSU, 6’0″, 229 lbs
Queen is one of the new age NFL linebackers that have become so important in the last five years or so. He’s an outstanding athlete, running a sub 4.5 forty time at the combine. The former Tiger is light at 229 lbs but isn’t a liability against the run. His strengths lie in his pass coverage and instincts, especially sniffing out screen passes and reading the quarterback’s eyes. An excellent open-field tackler, Queen uses his speed to disrupt plays as a blitzer up the middle frequently. His biggest weakness is run-stuffing, especially in the box. It should also be noted that he was only a one-year starter, so he is still a raw prospect. He needs to get stronger and gain a bit of weight if he wants to be a truly elite linebacker, but the Louisiana native has all the tools to put it together. I would be surprised if the Pats took Queen, as they traditionally look for bigger, thicker linebackers to play on the inside, but Queen is the type of player that could break the mold.
Projection: Top 25
NFL Comparison: Deion Jones
Kenneth Murray – Junior, Oklahoma, 6’2″, 241 lbs
Murray is another modern NFL linebacker. He’s a true playmaker who can stay on the field every down at a high level. His speed and agility allow him to make plays at all levels at the defense. The Texas native is able to cover running backs, tight ends, and the occasional slot receiver at a high level. He’s a bit bigger than Patrick Queen and better against the run, so I think he would be a better fit in New England, however, he may not be there at 23. I would imagine they would need to move up a couple of spots to take the former Sooner. Despite his outstanding play at Oklahoma, he wasn’t as consistent as a typical Patriots linebacker would be, so he would need to improve in that category if he wants to succeed in New England.
Projection: Top 20
NFL Comparison: Darius Leonard
Mid Round Fits
Malik Harrison – Senior, Ohio State, 6’3″, 247 lbs
If you were to design a Patriots-type linebacker for the modern NFL in a lab, Harrison would be what you created. The former Buckeye is an absolute moose at 6’3″ 247 and can fly around the field with 4.66 speed. he’s a superb tackler in the open field, and a mean hitter to boast. In coverage, he is very solid, especially when dropping into zones. He is, however, limited when it comes to covering quick running backs and tight ends in man coverage. When watching his tape, it is easy to see he has outstanding football instincts and is not afraid to take on pulling guards in his gaps, two skills that Belichick-coached linebackers have frequently possessed. Add in the fact that he was a core special teamer at Ohio State, and you have an excellent Patriots fit.
Projection: Late 2nd to Early 4th
NFL Comparison: Sean Lee
Logan Wilson – Redshirt Senior, Wyoming, 6’2″, 241 lbs
Wilson is a throwback, run-stuffing linebacker with better speed and agility than you’d expect. A three-year captain at Wyoming, Wilson was extremely productive, posting multiple 100 tackle seasons. Despite his limitations in man coverage, Wilson is still capable of becoming a three-down linebacker in the right system. His zone drops aren’t NFL ready yet, but with improvement, he could become a staple of a defense. In addition to his run-stuffing, Wilson is very instinctual and blitzes effectively. A terrific open-field tackler, Wilson has a little bit of Dont’a Hightower to him, in that he is seemingly always around the ball.
Projection: Early 3th to Mid 4th
NFL Comparison: Benardrick McKinney
Late Round Fits
De’Jon “Scoota” Harris – Senior, Arkansas, 6’0″ 234 lbs
A tackling machine at Arkansas, Harris is your classic thumping two-down linebacker. He isn’t going to shine in pass coverage, but he can take on pulling guards and do the dirty work. A physical and hard-nosed player, Harris will give you everything he has on each snap. Despite his limitations in coverage, he is a pretty solid athlete and could shine on special teams. In a limited, two-down role and a core special teamer, Harris could be a valuable player in the Pats system.
Projection: Late 5th to Early 7th
NFL Comparison: Elandon Roberts
Marcus Bailey – Redshirt Senior, Purdue, 6’0″ 235 lbs
One of my favorite sleepers in the draft, Bailey is coming off of his second major knee surgery in 2019. His strengths lie with his instincts and awareness, so if he loses a bit of athleticism due to his injury history, it wouldn’t be a huge loss. When healthy, Bailey put up great numbers, with 115 tackles as a junior. Even though he isn’t a phenomenal athlete, he has fluid hips and is solid in coverage. He’s a real boom or bust prospect that I believe could be worth taking a flier on late in the draft. The former Boilermaker has real three-down starter potential in the NFL.
Projection: Late 5th to Early 7th
NFL Comparison: DeMario Davis
*All stats and measurables via NFL.com, Walter Football and Draft Express