Leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft, which runs from April 26-28, NESN.com will do a New England Patriots draft fits series. We’ll continue it with linebackers.
There’s an argument to be made that linebacker is the New England Patriots’ biggest unfilled offseason need.
The Patriots need to take a quarterback, should certainly make offensive tackle a priority and would be wise to look ahead by grabbing a tight end and pass rusher in the 2018 NFL Draft. But they’ve done nothing to boost their linebacker corps this offseason.
As their roster currently stands, they’ll go into next season with Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy as starters with Elandon Roberts, Marquis Flowers, Nicholas Grigsby and Brandon King filling depth. They also have hybrid edge defenders Eric Lee, Derek Rivers and Harvey Langi, all of whom can play defensive end or outside linebacker, on their roster.
The Patriots could use an athletic starting-caliber defender who can cover to work alongside Hightower and Van Noy in the front seven. Here’s the Patriots’ best fit with each of their eight draft picks, plus two additional players.
Round 1, 23rd Overall Pick: Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State
Vander Esch is a perfect fit for the Patriots based on size and testing numbers. He ran a 4.65-second 40-yard dash at 6-foot-4, 256 pounds with a 6.88-second 3-cone and 4.15-second short shuttle.
If he’s there, he’d be an ideal pick to add athleticism and immediate starting potential into the Patriots’ linebacker corps.
Round 1, 31st Overall Pick: Rashaan Evans, Alabama
Evans never ran a 40-yard dash, but he fits what the Patriots typically look for with a 6.94-second 3-cone drill and 9-foot, 8-inch broad jump. He’s a bit undersized at 6-foot-2, 232 pounds.
He’d also add athleticism and dangerous blitzing potential to the Patriots’ defense. Since Alabama defenders tend to fall in the draft, we wonder if Evans could be available early on the second day.
Round 2, 43rd Overall Pick: Malik Jefferson, Texas
Jefferson’s another linebacker who immediately could add a jolt of speed into the Patriots’ front seven. He ran a 4.52-second 40-yard dash at 6-foot-2, 240 pounds.
Round 2, 63rd Overall Pick: Fred Warner, BYU
Warner is a bit undersized at 236 pounds, but he moves like a safety. He ran a 6.9-second 3-cone, 4.28-second short shuttle and 1.55-second 10-yard split. He even spent time at slot cornerback in college.
Round 3, 95th Overall Pick: Uchenna Nwosu, USC
Nwosu mostly worked as a pass rusher in college, but because he’s undersized at 6-foot-2, 251 pounds, it’s possible an NFL team would ask him to move off the line in the pros.
Round 6, 198th Overall Pick: Jack Cichy, Wisconsin
Cichy missed Wisconsin’s last 20 games with pectoral and knee injuries. He never ran a 40-yard dash but displayed plus athleticism, posting a 7.06-second 3-cone drill, 4.28-second short shuttle, 33.5-inch vertical leap and 10-foot, 4-inch broad jump.
Round 6, 210th Overall Pick: Peter Kalambayi, Stanford
Kalambayi mostly played on the edge at Stanford, but he could have the athleticism to move off the line after running a 4.57-second 40-yard dash with a 6.94-second 3-cone at 6-foot-3, 252 pounds.
Round 7, 219th Overall Pick: Matthew Thomas, Florida State
Thomas is worth a late-round flier based on his physical traits.
He ran a 4.44-second 40-yard dash with a 6.85-second 3-cone, 4.28-second short shuttle, 41.5-inch vertical leap and 10-foot, 11-inch broad jump at 6-foot-3, 232 pounds during pre-draft testing. He’s one of the best athletes in the entire draft.
Trade-up option: Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
Edmunds is only 19 years old (!) and could be a top 10 pick in the draft. He has ideal size for the position at 6-foot-5, 253 pounds.
Mid-round option: Jerome Baker, Ohio State
Baker recently dropped from being projected as a second- or third-round prospect to fourth-to-fifth in DraftScout.com’s rankings. It’s unclear why. He’s undersized at 6-foot-1, 229 pounds, but he’s an elite athlete and would dramatically improve the overall coverage skills of the Patriots’ linebacker corps.