What I consider the most critical component of the Patriots’ defense is the Linebacker/Edge Group. Last season they just didn’t provide much pressure outside of Matt Judon. Once teams started scheming for Judon and no one else picked up the slack from the LB/Edge group the team suffered.
Judon was not the same player in the 2nd half of the season. The linebackers were old, slow, and tired. The Patriots released Kyle Van Noy and didn’t re-sign Hightower or Collins. Hightower and Collins have not signed with anyone. However, Hightower was spotted with his former teammates at a Celtics playoff game. Could he be a late signing as Training Camp comes to a close? This is a veteran move, not attending OTAs, Mini-Camp, or Training Camp, just because they don’t want to go through that grind.
The experienced Hightower knows the system and the 32 yo old, 11-year vet doesn’t need the Training Camp. On the other hand, Hightower looked slow last season, partially the result of taking a year off for COVID. The Patriots do not have the cap space to sign Hightower right now and he is no threat to sign elsewhere. Collins has just lost it. His playing time was diminishing all season. It’s not a surprise that no team has picked him up.
The Judon signing was a brilliant move by the Patriots. He lived up to the advanced billing and made his 3rd consecutive Pro-Bowl appearance. The 6-year vet, turns 30 in August and will have two years remaining on his contract after this season. In 2021, Judon had the second-highest tackle total of his career (60) and a career-high 12.5 sacks. As mentioned earlier, Judon‘s play dropped significantly as the season wore on. Judon never shrunk from being in the limelight. He was always upfront, honest, and available for the media. Judon has become a real leader of the defense and will eventually take over the role of Devin McCourty. I would like to see Judon become a little more stout against the run. It was not always his fault as the other players were not doing their job.
The third-year player badly underperformed last season, playing only 12 games and making 12 tackles, three of those were sacks. Uche has a history of injuries dating back to his college days. This will be a make-or-break season for Uche. Much is expected from Uche, to provide the pass rush from the other side from Judon. He needs to produce to take the double team off Judon. He looks good but gets nicked up and his progress stalls.
Perkins was drafted by the Patriots knowing that he had an injury and that his 2021 season was in jeopardy. This pattern of drafting players with injuries, at a lower draft position, but with a higher ceiling, has got to stop. The Patriots are not that good anymore where they can take a red shirt year. This will be Perkins’s rookie year and I don’t expect much from him. I don’t like what I have read about Perkins. He can be wildly undisciplined in the run game. He appears larger than his weight is listed. He would be better as a DE in a 4-3 alignment, not a stand-up edge player required to cover a TE or back out of the backfield. He was projected to have great speed with an estimated 4.56 40. He ran only 4.71 at his pro day and didn’t run the 3-cone. He is under 6’3” and weighs 256 lbs. He will be one to watch this Pre-season and is likely a candidate to be inactive all season.
In 2020 the 2nd year LB had 20 tackles (10 solos, 10 assists). His rookie year was a wash-out because of a late Pre-season injury that put him on season-ending IR. What will we get in 2022? I have no idea? The 6’3” 253 lb LB couldn’t workout at combine or Pro Day because of a leg whip he receive at the end of the season knocking him out of the championship game. NFL Draftscout estimates he would have run a 4.71. In his 5 years at Alabama, he missed time in 2018 for a knee injury and a broken leg in 2020. So Jennings gets drafted in the 3rd round #87 without working out for anyone. Depending upon how the coaches want the makeup of the Defense to be, Jennings may have a hard time making the team. With both Dugger and Phillips capable of playing the LB position, Jenning is going to have to make a very positive impact on special teams to make the team.
The 6’2, 255 lb inside linebacker is an old-school thumper. His downfield style reminds people of the days when the big inside linebacker stuffed the run. That is what Bentley specializes in. On the other hand, he is only a 2 down LB and very susceptible in pass coverage. The 4th year Pro will turn 26 this August. He was a two-time Captain at Purdue and is providing leadership in the Patriots locker room.
McMillan was signed as a Free Agent in 2021 but was injured during pre-season and put on the season-ending IR on August 7th. The Patriots signed him to a one-year contract extension on September 27th while rehabbing his knee injury. That is how much they were impressed by him. McMillan was having a very promising Pre-season when he got hurt. The Ohio State product is being heavily counted on by the coaching staff. He is a departure from the typical LB the Patriots have drafted. Standing 6’ 2” and 242 lbs. he is not the typical thumper like JaWhuan Bentley. McMillan ran a 4.61 at the combine which is very good for an ILB. He also excels as a coverage linebacker. This was before the torn ACL. Can he bounce back from the injured knee? We will find this out early in the pre-season and training camp. As an ILB, he was never the downhill type of LB and that’s what may have soured Las Vegas and Miami.
McGrone was drafted knowing he would not likely play last season because of his knee injury suffered at Michigan, late in the 2020 season. McGrone has limited college experience, playing only one full season, as a redshirt freshman in 2019. His final year at Michigan saw him tear his ACL and played in 5 of the 6 games Michigan played in 2020. He is slightly under 6’1” and 234 lbs. This is now the size of typical LBs in the NFL. However, he is smaller than both Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips. NFL Draft Scout estimated he would run a 4.54 40 prior to the injury. McGrone will be one to watch to see how he responds to his rehab of the knee injury. McGrone is only 22.
Wilson was acquired in a trade with Cleveland that sent underperforming DE Chase Winowich to the Browns. Entering his 4th year in the league, 24 yo, the former Alabama LB was drafted in the 5th round. As a rookie, he started 14 games for Cleveland and had 82 combined tackles. But over the next two seasons, his playing time dropped and his tackles did as well with 39 each year. At 6’1” 240 lbs, he is that undersized LB that has become popular in the league. At his Pro Day, he ran a 4.71, so he may be a 2-down LB. This was a swap for two disappointing players. Hoping a change of scenery and new coaches can bring out the best in Wilson. Another to watch in camp.
Entering his 6th season in the league, his most productive seasons were for the Jets when he played in 14 and 16 games in 2017 and 2019 Langi at this point is strictly an ST guy. If he is called upon to play LB we are really in trouble. In 2017 he signed a large Undrafted Free Agent contract after the draft. It was a 3-year contract for $1.68 M. $15K signing bonus and a $100K guaranteed. He made the roster and was active for 1 game before a horrific auto accident nearly derailed his career before it got started. He ended up on IR and he was released after the season. The Jets picked him up and signed him to the Practice Squad for the 2018 season. In 2019 and 2020 he played 16 and 14 games respectively. The Patriots signed him as a Free Agent in 2021 but he only had 3 tackles on the season. He will have a hard time making the team.
Another player that if he makes the team it is strictly because of his special teams’ ability. At 6’ 2 3/8, 250 lbs the former Hawaii Warrior was a 2nd round draft pick of the Detroit Lions. In most opinions, he was quite the reach. In 2019 he had 58 total tackles in 15 games, and 6 starts. In 2020 he also had 58 tackles in 16 games and 10 starts. For the Patriots he had 6 tackles all on ST. Unless there is a big need for an LB on ST, Tavai will have a difficult time finding a spot on the 53-man roster.
Patriots Record Prediction
New Arena posted predictions for all teams and had this for the Patriots.
Week 1- @ Miami Dolphins — LOSS
Week 2- @ Pittsburgh Steelers — WIN
Week 3- vs. Baltimore Ravens — LOSS
Week 4- @ Green Bay Packers — LOSS
Week 5- vs. Detroit Lions — WIN
Week 6- @ Cleveland Browns — LOSS
Week 7- vs. Chicago Bears — WIN
Week 8- @ New York Jets — WIN
Week 9- vs. Indianapolis Colts — WIN
Week 10- BYE WEEK
Week 11- vs. New York Jets — WIN
Week 12- @ Minnesota Vikings — LOSS
Week 13- vs. Buffalo Bills — LOSS
Week 14- @ Arizona Cardinals — WIN
Week 15- @ Las Vegas Raiders — LOSS
Week 16- vs. Cincinnati Bengals — LOSS
Week 17- vs. Miami Dolphins — WIN
Week 18- @ Buffalo Bills — LOSS
My Prediction was 7-10
The difference is that I have the Patriots losing to the Steelers at Pittsburgh in week 2. In fact, I have them 0-4 to start the season. The Patriots have a brutal schedule, one of the most disadvantageous schedules in the league. This year they play a top-tier schedule because they finished in the top two of their division. Not like last season when they played a bottom-tier schedule. They play all the teams in the BFC Central and AFC Central. This means when they play outside of their division they play top teams like Indianapolis, Las Vegas, and Arizona. Last year they had a cupcake schedule and ran off 7 wins in a row against inferior competition.
ESPN’s Rob Ninkovich has the Patriots winning 12 games … I want to know what he is smoking?
Training Camp is Only Two Weeks Away
Rookies report on Tuesday the 19th the veterans on the 26th. The first open practice should be on the 27th. The Patriots still have two open roster spots on their 90-man camp roster. It should be interesting how they fill those last two spots.
Ivan Fears Retires
Very quietly RB coach Ivan Fears has retired. He confirmed this with the Herald’s Karen Guregian. Fears have been coaching for 46 years and the 67 yo has been doing it with the Patriots for 23 years. Never quiet in practice, the unassuming coach never made a big deal about his retirement. He was seen at the Patriots OTAs and will likely pop in at practice from time to time. He liked being called an “RB Consultant”.
Posted Under: Patriots News
Tags: Anfernee Jennings Cameron McGrone Harvey Langi Ja'Whaun Bentley Jahlani Tavai Josh Uche Mack Wilson Matt Judon Raekwon McMillian Ronnie Perkins