Patriots Linebacker Roster Reset: Matt Wells Adds Coverage Skills, Speed

The New England Patriots took a non-traditional route adding linebackers through the 2015 NFL Draft.

The Patriots selected three hybrid defenders who could contribute at linebacker or in other roles. Third-round pick Geneo Grissom played outside linebacker at Oklahoma in 2014, but he moved around the front seven during his college career, even playing some interior defensive line.

It’s unclear how Grissom will fit in with the Patriots, but at 6-foot-3, 252 pounds, he has prototypical size for a Patriots linebacker. Grissom is listed as a defensive lineman on the Patriots’ roster, but the Patriots lack dependable depth at linebacker, while they’re currently deep with pass rushers.

Behind starting linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins and Jerod Mayo, the Patriots have just Darius Fleming, Jonathan Freeny, Cameron Gordon, Rufus Johnson, Eric Martin, James Morris and Chris White as veterans at the position. Freeny, with just 107 career defensive snaps, has the most experience among that group, which should be a bit scary for Patriots fans.

The Patriots seemed high on Morris, a 2014 undrafted free agent, before he tore his ACL last summer. He could play a big role next season if he can stay healthy. The Patriots also could add a veteran free-agent linebacker, like Brandon Spikes or Colin McCarthy, as soon as Tuesday, when signings no longer count against next year’s compensatory pick formula.

The Patriots drafted Matt Wells in the sixth round out of Mississippi State. Wells, listed at just 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, played a hybrid linebacker/safety role for the Bulldogs. He ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, and that athleticism showed up on the field with his pass-coverage skills. He was targeted 43 times and allowed 21 catches for 212 yards with six pass breakups, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Patriots used safety Patrick Chung as a hybrid safety/linebacker last season, and Wells eventually could be used in a similar role in the Patriots’ defense. He likely will start out playing special teams in New England.

The Patriots used a seventh-round pick on Alabama’s Xzavier Dickson, who is listed on New England’s roster as a linebacker, but he primarily was used as a pass rusher with the Crimson Tide. Dickson, at 6-foot-3, 266 pounds, is built similarly to Hightower, but the rookie has less experience as an off-the-line linebacker.

The Patriots have plenty of versatility at linebacker, but adding a player like Spikes or McCarthy would add a sense of security to their linebacker depth chart. Hightower is coming off a shoulder injury which could limit his availability to start the season, and the Patriots don’t know if a player on their current roster could step up as a starter in his potential absence.

Grissom and Wells provide exciting upside, however, because of their raw skills and positional versatility.

Thumbnail photo via Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports Images

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