The Super Bowl LIII champion New England Patriots were extremely fortunate when it came to avoiding in-season injuries. But they lost over half of their 2018 NFL Draft class to injuries before the games even began.

Linebacker and sixth-round pick Christian Sam was one of those rookies who was placed on injured reserve before Week 1. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound defender played three preseason games, missed the Patriots’ final exhibition game, was placed on season-ending IR then seemingly had surgery on an undisclosed ailment.

Sam had 12 tackles and an interception in his three preseason games. He registered four defensive “stops,” per Pro Football Focus. He let up seven catches on nine targets for 38 yards with the interception.

Going back to his days at Arizona State, Sam had one of the highest run-stop rates among draft-eligible players in 2017. He had 46 run stops on 365 snaps. He did miss 13 tackles, however. Sam recorded three sacks, one quarterback hit and four hurries on just 53 pass-rush snaps.

The Allen, Texas native didn’t wow during pre-draft testing, running a 4.73-second 40-yard dash, 1.63-second 10-yard split, 7.03-second 3-cone drill, 4.20-second short shuttle, 32-inch vertical leap, 9-foot, 6-inch broad jump and 28 bench-press reps of 225 pounds.

His draft profile praised his ability to cover tight ends and running backs, however.

With a new crop of rookies and free agents coming on board in 2019, Sam will be back competing for a roster spot this spring and summer. Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Ja’Whaun Bentley and Brandon King also are under contract next season. Linebackers Ramon Humber and Albert McClellan are free agents. The Patriots could choose to part with Hightower since he has a salary cap hit of nearly $11 million, but cutting or trading him only would free up $5.9 million in cap room.

For Sam to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster in his second season, he’ll have to stay healthy and prove he can contribute on special teams. It’s highly unlikely he would earn a starting role out of training camp, barring a string of injuries, so his path to a roster spot is as a reserve/special-teams ace.

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