Putting together the Big Board: Off the ball Linebackers

With injuries to two key players, the Patriots could look for a Linebacker early in the draft.

With injuries to two key players, the Patriots could look for a Linebacker early in the draft.

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

Team Overview:

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.

Draftable Options:

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.

Interesting UDFA’s:

Zack Vigil, Utah State (6’2″, 232 Lbs.)








20 Responses to “Putting together the Big Board: Off the ball Linebackers”

  1. hdpaulie says:

    Would love to see the Pats draft Dawson. I’ve watched some of his tape and he has incredible instincts. He diagnoses the play quickly and moves in for the tackle. He’s a baller, and alongside H’tower and Collins, would give the Pats possibly the best young group of LBers in the league.

  2. JackT says:

    Shaq Thompson I think would be a good choice for one of their three picks in the third round. Too many good players ahead of him to settle for a conversion pick in the first round IMO. I just don’t see him going that high. Now If Eric Kendricks were to become available, the Pats would have to think twice about that. I wanted the Pats to take his brother Mychal in 2012 and convert him to safety but he never fell far enough for them to have a legitimate shot at him.

  3. MM-II says:

    “Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio hinted (today) that a trade up might be more possible (in this year’s draft) because of how many players the team currently has on its roster (75 of 90 possible).”

    This “hint” of course virtually guarantees that the Pats will be trading down, right?

    • Jeff says:

      Too bad this is a weak class for linebackers… The Pats will have to reach if they want a guy with a legitimate chance to be the 3rd linebacker on the depth chart in case Mayo is gone next year. My guess is they wait to draft Mayo’s replacement until next year, signing a one-year stopgap vet as a free agency as draft bust insurance.

  4. MM-II says:

    Mayo has reportedly agreed to a reworked contract.

    My interpretation of the reports is this:
    – Mayo’s base salary drops from $6.25M to $4.5M, “guaranteed.” Mayo was always guaranteed $4.5M for injury only, but the reports are unclear as to whether or not that amount is fully-guaranteed.
    – The $1.75M “cut” from his original base salary (or most of it) has been converted to incentives, presumably in the form of a weekly roster bonus at a rate of roughly $100k/week. Since he appeared in only 6 games last season, only ~$600k of that would be classified as LTBE, with the remaining $1M or so not counted against the Pats’ cap expenditures until the end of the season, IF Mayo appears in all 16 regular season games.
    – Since the Pats are still on the hook for the $3.6M pro-rated 2015 portion of Mayo’s signing bonus, that $1M is about all the cap savings the Pats would derive this season, and only if Mayo is injured again.
    – However, Mayo reportedly agreed to convert the final two years of his contract (2016 & 2017) to a team option. IOW, as with Revis, Browner and Wilfork this year, if the Pats decline to exercise their option on Mayo before the start of the 2016 league year, Mayo becomes a UFA and the Pats are only on the hook for the remaining portions of his signing bonus (although the parties remain able, if not willing, to strike a new deal from scratch).

  5. acm says:

    Speaking of LBs, Jerod Mayo has restructured his contract with the Pats. Seems the terms of the new deal are similarly structured to Wilfork’s deal last year, although the total numbers may be lower, which would improve his chances to play out the entire contract.

  6. Dan Sullivan says:

    Patriots Mock Draft.
    1 Malcolm Brown DT Texas
    2 Eric Rowe CB Utah
    3 Jeremiah Poutasi G Utah
    3 Chris Conley WR Georgia
    4 Kurtis Drummond S Michigan St.
    4 Ramik Wilson ILB Georgia
    6 Ray Drew DE Georgia
    7 Jimmay Mundine RB Kansas
    7 Rob Crisp OT NC State

  7. Jeff says:

    Any chance Malcolm Brown falls to the Pats at the end of the 1st? Seems like he’s been slipping a bit in some projections. Probably a pipe dream, but if he did fall I’d guess he’d represent the best value at 32 or even worth moving up a couple of slots with one of the Pats 4th round picks.

  8. AM says:

    Thompson and Heeney would be outstanding additions. Given how badly the team is consistently burned by TEs (less so last year, of course), and the proliferation of pass-happy/up-tempo offenses in the NFL, I would stay away from any LB who couldn’t perform well in space.

  9. Nuf Ced says:

    Love Shaq Thompson… He is the prototype Big Nickel, incredible chess piece. So would love to see him in a Pats uni

  10. Ryan says:

    To me, linebacker seems like a position where we could use one more starter (but might not need one) and then a good deal of depth. For this reason, I don’t think that it makes sense to pick a linebacker until the third round of the draft or later. I think that Dawson, McKinney and Anthony would be great additions to our defense but I would rather wait to see if one of then drops to us then grab one in the second round. Besides them, Taiwan Jones looks like a good depth pick at the end of the fourth and another guy that I like is Trey Depriest. He is a hard hitter who could work out in a two-down role if we grab him in the sixth round.

  11. Russell says:

    I think BB will look at guys with DE playing time in College, who have better size, look for intelligence, and tackling/angles in chase skills. Disapplined with there role on a given play, good off field/on field leader ship, tape room skills,work room skills, etc.
    Davis Tull……Collins type OLB…6’2″ 249lbs( VERY intelligent)
    Eli Harold……Collins type OLB….6’3″ 254 lbs
    Loranzo Mauldin….Hightower type LB….6’4″ 262lbs
    Dezmond Johnson…Hightower/Mayo type LB…6’4″ 267lbs( HIGHLY intelligent, Duke)
    Deion Barnes ……..Mayo type LB ……..6’4″ 262lbs
    Kyle Emanuel…….Collins type……..6’3″ 252lbs(Very intelligent)
    C.J.Olaniyan ……. no type……….. 6’3″ 248lbs

    All of this group will need time to develope coverage skills, and find thier “role” in the Patriots system. I think BB wants more of this type of player to mold into a LB, with better size. Guys at 220-230, even if they add wieght will lose some of there Game tape quickness, which you can’t coach. SO IMO If BB wants a LB he will go with one/or more of these prospects.

    • Mike Gerken says:

      Hey Russell,
      I am working on another post today that has alot of the guys you mentioned. I put them in more of the edge rusher category, so many of the names you mentioned will be in todays post.

  12. Dan Sullivan says:

    Patriots Mock Draft
    1 Ali Marpet G Hobart
    2 Mario Edwards DL FSU
    3 Sequez Golson CB Ole Miss.
    3 Karlos Williams RB FSU
    4 Jake Ryan LB Michigan
    4 Darren Waller WR Georgia Tech
    6 Adam Shead G Oklahoma
    7 Deon Simon DT Northwestern State
    7 Quashawn Nealy ILB Georgia Tech

  13. MM-II says:

    I think that Patriots fans are way more enamored of the idea of finding a Rodney Harrison replacement than BB is anymore.

    It seems to me that what BB & MP require first and foremost from their LBs is the ability to quickly find their run fits, shed big OL and stop the run, from almost any off-the-line spot. Rushing the passer up the middle is secondary and coverage of TEs and RBs is something they hopefully grow into. Clearly, BB feels this all requires generally bigger guys with smarts, dedication and decent athleticism (if a bigger guy is athletically elite, like Collins, that’s a bonus). Size and run-stopping strength may be even more important requirements for LBs if the acquisition of lighter DTs like Easley turns out to be a trend rather than an anomaly.

    So, these guys that are coming into the draft at 227#, 235# – if they don’t have the frame to support bulking up to the 245#- 250# range without losing their athleticism, I’m skeptical that they’ll grade out very high on BB’s board. I’m not saying that BB is completely uninterested in smaller, quicker, safety-ish coverage LBs – he’s certainly been playing with the concept – just that he seems very reluctant to spend higher than UDFA/SFA level for one. A 1st-rounder? Hmmmm.

    So, Anthony in the 3rd (seems unlikely that he’ll get out of the 2nd, though), Taiwan Jones in the 4th both seem much more likely to me than Thompson at #32 (I’m skipping McKinney in the 2nd because I just don’t trust his motor, discipline and work ethic). But BB has 6 LBs of various types (beyond the “big three”) on the roster already who may have as much or more potential at ILB than anyone available to him in this draft class. None of them may be even close to Mayo replacement level, but why spend draft picks on more of the same?

    OTOH, Fua in the 6th might be a good 2-year developmental prospect.

  14. acm says:

    I’d suggest Mike Hull and Jake Ryan as potential late-er round pick ups for the Pats. And my personal favorite this year for the Pats at the (O)LB position – Davis Tull (3-4th round range). Speaking of a Collins clone, that’d be Tull, imo.

    I love the Shaq Thompson angle too. Just not sure about him as a 1st rounder. See him possibly falling a bit deeper than expected due to lack of a clear role at the NFL level – nickle LB, SS, RB? Could he fall to 64? Not very likely imo but if he is there, I think Pats would pull the trigger.

    Like Dawson and have him on my Pats draft board but the guy is littered with red flags. As you said the value in the 3rd or so round may be too good to pass up but probably don’t consider him any earlier and he’s gone by then.

    MCKinney is fine prospect albeit a bit limited as a LB in today’s NFL, imo. Unless he falls a lot deeper than currently projected (early to mid 2nd round), have to question the value available from Patriots perspective. For a team that seems to have kind of moved on from seeing the likes of Brandon Spikes as a 3-down LB-er, taking McKinney even at #64 could be considered a step back, imo.

    Heeney is such a typical Patriots pick, except one thing – he lead the nation in missed tackles for 2014. Has short arms and small hands, iirc, so have to wonder if those missed tackles had anything to do with that? Maybe he could fix it by improving/adjusting his tackling technique? Who knows but it’s obviously an issue and not exactly a plus for a ST-er either.

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