FOXBORO, Mass. — Apparently the New England Patriots did regard linebacker as a need in the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Patriots double dipped at linebacker, taking Arizona State’s Christian Sam at No. 178 overall, 35 picks after drafting Purdue’s Ja’Whaun Bentley. Sam, who’s 6-foot-1, 244 pounds, is more athletic than Bentley. He ran a 4.73-second 40-yard dash with a 1.62-second 10-yard split, 7.03-second 3-cone and 4.2-second short shuttle with a 32-inch vertical leap and 9-foot, 6-inch broad jump.
While Bentley is more of a run-thumper, Sam’s athleticism gives him more versatility in the passing game.
Sam ranked seventh in Pro Football Focus’ run-stop percentage metric, recording 46 stops in 365 run snaps in 2017. He missed 13 tackles and had seven total pressures, including three sacks, on 53 pass-rush snaps, per PFF.
He joins Bentley, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Harvey Langi, Marquis Flowers, Nicholas Grigsby and Brandon King in the Patriots’ linebacker room. Sam projects to compete with Bentley, Roberts, Flowers and Langi for the Patriots’ No. 3 linebacker role. Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio stated the importance of competition Friday after the second day of the draft.
“Our goal and our job is to try to create as much competition across as many positions as possible,” Caserio said. “It comes in many shapes and sizes and forms and it comes at different times of the year — March free agency, draft now, undrafted free agency, they?ll be some things that probably happen over the course of the summer, and then once we get into training camp, it?s going to be a whole other group of players.”
The Patriots lacked linebacker depth after Hightower and Van Noy went down with injuries in 2017. They’ve replenished that depth with Bentley and Sam in consecutive late-round picks.
The Patriots have the option of playing Van Noy or Hightower on the edge at outside linebacker if they believe Bentley or Sam can contribute right away on defense.