NEPD Staff Writer: Mike Gerken
We are just one week away from the Super Bowl and what better way to keep you distracted than with some NFL draft talk. I went into this process thinking Linebacker would not be a high priority for the Patriots because I thought they would resign one or both of Hightower and Collins. We know for sure that Collins will not be here and from some media reports, it sounds like Hightower at least wants to test the free agent market. If he leaves, that would create a massive need at the position. Even if the Patriots do retain Hightower, he has had issues staying healthy and it would be nice to get another play maker on the field with him. That is why today, we look at a versatile Linebacker that could help replace the production the team lost when they traded away Jamie Collins.
Name: Alex Anzalone (#34)
School: University of Florida (rJr.)
Height: 6’3″ (Senior Bowl)
Weight: 240 Lbs. (Senior Bowl)
Anzalone is exactly what teams are looking for in a Linebacker in today’s NFL. He has a great combination of size and speed. He is also a very fluid mover who looks comfortable in space and will be able to drop in coverage and handle himself against NFL Tight Ends. Anzalone brings versatility to the football field as well. While at Florida he played both Inside and Outside Linebacker for the Gators. He was also asked to do a variety of things from those positions. On one play, the Gators staff would ask Anzalone to drop into zone coverage and on the very next play he could be seen rushing the passer off the edge. He showed the athleticism and speed to stick with Tight Ends and Slot Receivers in man coverage. Anzalone also showed good instincts and recognition skills and could quickly react to what he saw. He is a high motor guy who gives maximum effort on every play.
On the field, there is not much I saw from Anzalone that I didn’t like. One thing he will need to work on is his tackling. It is not that he uses bad technique, it just seems that he doesn’t run through the guy he is trying to tackle and he seems to bounce of guys rather than always bring them down. He also needs to work on shedding defenders. Overall he is pretty good at it, but there were times when he struggled to disengage from opposing blockers. Anzalone is not a natural pass rusher. He wins with speed, but does not have a pass rush skill set to fall back on if he doesn’t win with speed. He looks better when blitzing through the A gap rather than the outside. The big issue with Anzalone will be his medical checks. Anzalone has dealt with shoulder problems since he was in High School. He has missed significant time at Florida with injuries as well. He has not been able to stay on the field consistently throughout his career and that will be a big issue for teams come draft time.
I really like Anzalone. He has been one of my favorite players to evaluate so far in this process. He would be a perfect fit in the Patriots system and I think his athleticism and versatility could make him a really good player in the NFL. A lot of attention goes to Florida’s other Linebacker, Jarrad Davis, who is the flashier player of the two, but Anzalone seems like the more consistent player. The big issue will be the injury concerns, all the other stuff I listed as negatives are easily fixable with coaching. If there were no medical issues, Anzalone would easily be a top 50 pick for me, but I think he will go a round later or so because of the durability concerns. I think he would be a great fit next to Hightower on the Patriots defense and could have a similar impact that Jamie Collins had when he was with the Patriots.