Had it not been for the New England Patriots’ interest in dual-threat Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds ahead of the 2016 NFL Draft, they might never have stumbled upon Elandon Roberts.
Two days after Roberts burst onto the scene with seven tackles in New England’s Week 5 win over the Cleveland Browns, Patriots coach Bill Belichick recalled his unexpected introduction to the rookie linebacker, which came during a Navy-Houston game late last November.
“Personally, I first saw him when I was watching Keenan Reynolds, the Navy quarterback,” Belichick said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters. “In that game, Reynolds threw for 300 yards or something like that. He threw a lot of passes in the game. That was the game in his career that he threw the most, so I wanted to watch that. And when I was watching that, I kept noticing the middle linebacker for Houston.”
That middle linebacker was Roberts, and he was impossible to miss. The 6-foot, 235-pound senior terrorized Reynolds throughout the contest, which Houston won 52-31.
Roberts’ final stat line: seven tackles, 4 1/2 tackles for loss and 2 1/2 sacks. His pressure on Reynolds also helped force the only interception the Navy quarterback threw all season, which can be seen at the 5:30 mark of the video below.
“He made a ton of plays in that game,” Belichick said of Roberts. “… He blitzed, and he just showed up a lot. I thought he ran well, and I didn’t even know who he was. So I went and got the information on him and so forth, and that’s when I first noticed him.”
Roberts finished as the Division I leader in solo tackles with 88 last season, but his lack of prototypical size caused him to slip to the sixth round of the draft. New England snatched him up with the 214th pick.
“I would say in scouting him throughout his college career, (he had) good production, particularly his senior year,” Belichick said. “Runs well, probably plays to or maybe a little bigger than his size. He’s got some explosion. He obviously doesn’t have the kind of length that some players have at that position, but he plays strong, he’s instinctive, he can find the ball, he runs well. And when (Patriots linebackers coach Brian) Flores went down and worked him out, he confirmed all those things, plus how hard-working of a player he is and so forth.”
Belichick said he also received a glowing review from Mike O’Shea, Houston’s head trainer and the father of Patriots wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea.
Though he made the team out of camp, Roberts spent the first month of the season on the fringes of the Patriots’ roster. He was inactive for two of the Patriots’ first four games and entered Week 5 having played a mere seven snaps (six on defense, one on special teams) in his young NFL career.
That changed Sunday, when Roberts played 31 snaps, led the Patriots in tackles and even manhandled perennial All-Pro tackle Joe Thomas during New England’s 33-13 demolition of the Browns.
Not bad for a guy Belichick hadn’t even heard of at this time last year.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images