NEPD Staff Writer: Mike Gerken
I am back again with another installment of my Big Board series. I hope you have enjoyed the previous posts and feel like these are informative. For this post, I will be focusing on those guys who are off the ball linebackers. Let’s take a look at who I feel fit the Patriots.
Current Roster: Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower, Jaimie Collins, Jonathon Freeny, James Morris, Cameron Gordon, Darius Flemming, Eric Martin, Deontae Skinner, Rufus Johnson, Chris White
Position Need: Medium to High
At the top of the position, the Patriots are as talented as any other team in the NFL. Mayo is coming off an injury and has a bloated contract. Hightower just had surgery and there is a real possibility he will not be ready to start the season. The other guys on this list are special team players with very little experience playing on defense and are all guys who could be upgraded. This leaves the position with some question marks and could mean the Patriots look to add some youth and talent at the position.
Shaq Thompson, Washington (6’0″, 228 Lbs.) 1st round
I wrote a report on him earlier, but I want to add some additional thoughts on him. I think his skillset could give Belichick a ton of options and flexibility on defense and I think he could be really high on the Patriots board. Thompson could be that big safety/linebacker hybrid that Belichick has tried to bring in over the years. With the game going so pass heavy, Thompson could be a very important cog in the defensive wheel and could free up Hightower and Collins to rush the passer more. The more I think about him in this defense, the more excited I get. Here is the link to the article I wrote earlier this season. http://www.nepatriotsdraft.com/2014/12/scouting-report-shaq-thompson-lbs.html
Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State (6’4″, 246 Lbs.) 2nd round
Another player I wrote about earlier this year. McKinney would be a nice compliment to play the Hightower role and could get some use outside as a pass rusher. Here is my post I wrote on him earlier this year. http://www.nepatriotsdraft.com/2014/09/scouting-report-benardrick-mckinney-ilbolb-mississippi-st-vs-south-alabama.html
Paul Dawson, TCU (6’0″, 235 Lbs.) 3rd round
I know that Dawson had a terrible combine and there are some reports of some off field issues, but his tape shows a player who plays really fast because of his instincts. In fact, his tape shows a player closer to a first round pick than a third round pick and he could be a real steal. Here is my report from earlier this year. http://www.nepatriotsdraft.com/2015/01/scouting-report-paul-dawson-lb.html
Kwon Alexander, LSU (6’0″, 227 Lbs.) 3rd round
Alexander is another versatile linebacker with experience at all three positions in college. He has good speed and athleticism and can move from sideline to sideline quickly. Alexander uses his hands well and can be a decent blitzer when asked to. He is a well documented hard worker, team leader, high character guy who lives and breathes football. He is another small guy who can struggle to disengage at times. He has good speed, but needs some work in his coverage technique and awareness.
Stephone Anthony, Clemson (6’2″, 245 Lbs.) 3rd round
Anthony has prototypical size and speed for the position. He comes up and intitates contact and plays with an aggressive mentality. Where Anthony struggles is in space. He takes bad angles to the ball and struggles to keep his head up and work through the “trash”. Anthony has the speed and athleticism to be used in coverage situations, but can be overaggressive with his hand use and needs work on his technique. He needs to work on getting through defenders rather than trying to go around them all the time.
Ben Heeney, Kansas (6’0″, 232 Lbs.) 4th/5th round
Explosive athlete that blew up at the NFL combine. Heeney plays bigger than he is with his non stop motor and his aggressive demeanor. The testing and the tape show a player who moves well in space and can cover. Heeney is smaller and struggles to disengage from blocks. Was a tackling machine, but many of them came as chase down tackles. He does not move laterally as well as his testing would indicate. He is a hardworker with a never quit attitude. Heeney is intriguing because of the combination of his athletic metrics and his hardworking, blue collar attitude. He could be a special team monster who can be a good rotational guy with the potential to develop into more.
Taiwan Jones, Michigan State (6’3″, 245 Lbs.) 4th/5th round
To me, Jones skillset is similar to Jarod Mayo’s. He has good size for the position and plays faster than his timed speed would indicate. Jones is better as a straight line, come up and hit you type of linebacker. He has good athleticism and shows adequate range, but he won’t wow you with his lateral movement skills. Smart player who has experience at both the Will and Mike positions in college. Jones is a smart player who takes good angles to the ball and can fight through blocks to make the play. He is an aggressive player, sometimes overly aggressive though as he has racked up his fair share of roughing penalties. His coverage skills are nothing to write home about, but not terrible.
Alani Fua, BYU (6’4″, 238 Lbs.) 6th round
Well, I have mentioned players who have similar skillsets to the the other 2 Patriots starting linebackers, so I guess I better find a guy that fits the Jaimie Collins role. Fua has really good size and length for the position. He is athletic, with fluid movement skills and agility. He has lean frame and long arms. Fua looks very comfortable dropping into coverage and has good speed and awareness to run with guys one on one or sit down in a zone. He lined up all over the field and I like I said, I could see him in a similar role to Collins. The first thing Fua has to do is get into the weight room and add some weight and some bulk. Fua has the flexibility and athleticism to be a threat as a pass rusher if he can get stronger. It may take Fua a year or two to get on the field because he lacks strength, but if developed, he could be a pick that people look back on as a steal. I know his limitations are real right now, but he is a player I am really excited to watch and see how he develops.
Zack Vigil, Utah State (6’2″, 232 Lbs.)