Well, someone was paying attention at least. On our podcast recently, I said that I believe that Patriots rookie linebacker Anfernee Jennings would have a bigger impact in his rookie year than 2nd round pick Josh Uche.
And I stand by that, for reasons I’ll spell out below. However, one Patriots fan, who messaged me thought it rather ludicrous (it was actually more colorful than that) and asked if I was out of my mind (it was much more descriptive there).
This fan believes that Uche was the steal of the draft and that he’s going to be a superstar in the league. He may be both of those things, although I don’t think he will be as a rookie. And again, I’ll get to that shortly.
But since this is mainly about Jennings, so let’s jump into this.
Jennings is as versatile as they come playing a bunch of roles while at Alabama. He had to overcome adversity, after suffering a serious leg injury in 2018. But he returned motivated and finished his college career with two very good seasons in 2018 and 2019 and was one of the leaders of the team on defense.
First off, Jennings has the size that the Patriots like in their linebackers at 6’3, 256. But beyond the size and physicality, Jennings is a very smart, instinctive player and he’s versatile. When you think about players that Bill Belichick targets, they’re always football smart and versatile is Belichick’s middle name.
Jennings can line up as an outside linebacker or put his hand in the dirt and rush the passer. He has the length and power to set the edge for the defense and has the burst off the line to quickly knife inside the gaps and disrupt plays in the backfield. He’s not a burner and isn’t the fastest guy but his instinctive play and quick burst make his “football speed” seem faster than his timed speed would suggest.
He suffered a serious leg injury against Clemson in the semifinal playoff game in January 2018 from a leg whip and besides tearing his PCL, he suffered a blood clot and could have had his leg amputated. But nine months after his injury, he was back on the field for Alabama. And in that 2018 season, Jennings posted 6.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. As a senior in 2019, Jennings garnered an All-SEC First Team pick with 83 tackles, 8.0 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss, good for third in the SEC.
And if you thought that upon hearing Jennings name called that he was a perfect fit for New England, then you’d be right. He played for one of Belichick’s closest friends in Nick Saban and the system they run for the defense is very similar (not exactly the same but very similar) to what the Patriots run.
As he’s probably already sat down with linebackers coaches DeMarcus Covington and Jerod Mayo, there’s no doubt that Jennings probably already knows a lot of the calls and responsibilities that he’ll be asked to do in the Patriots system.
Jennings is best suited to be a SAM (strongside linebacker) that will line up on and slow the release of the tight end, set the edge in the running game, where his technique and hand usage is excellent. He can even bump inside and play inside linebacker. And with his instincts and quick burst off the snap, he’d be excellent along with Dont’a Hightower at blitzing up the interior gaps.
His familiarity with the Patriots system should be a big factor in his seeing the field more early in his career than Uche. And yes, I did listen to Phil Perry’s podcast where Uche said he learned the Patriots’ system from Jerod Mayo in “I want to say, two minutes.”
But the reality is, he’ll need some time to find his way, and to me, he’s still a bit undersized at 240 pounds for an edge guy. He has freaky, outstanding athleticism and has much better bend around the edge than Jennings. And yes, he could very well be the “steal of the draft, you f***ing idiot”, as was told to me. And I look forward to watching him develop over time. And he’s not the most instinctive player…at least yet. We’ll see, but I’m thinking it will take a bit longer than two minutes.
But for 2020, I’m sticking with Jennings as having a bigger impact on the Patriots defense. But what makes it so fascinating is that we’ll (hopefully) get to see them both on the field for the Patriots soon.
Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Anfernee Jennings Bill Belichick Chase Winovich Dont'a Hightower John Simon Josh Uche New England Patriots NFL Patriots edge rushers Patriots linebackers