Linebacker typically isn’t listed among the New England Patriots’ greatest needs, but perhaps that idea needs to be reassessed.
The Patriots usually don’t address immediate needs through the draft, instead picking players with an eye toward the future. Beyond 2019, the Patriots lack certainty at the linebacker position.
Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts both are free agents after the season. Dont’a Hightower’s 2020 cap hit is $11.375 million. The Patriots would save over $8.8 million in cap room by cutting him next offseason.
That leaves Ja’Whaun Bentley, who played just three games before hitting injured reserve last season, Christian Sam, who was on IR for his entire 2018 rookie season, Brandon King, a special-teams player and Calvin Munson, a practice-squad player.
The Patriots could look to draft a linebacker with an eye toward the future.
Leading up to the draft, which runs from April 25-27, we’ll go position by position and draft a player who fits the Patriots in each round. We tackled quarterbacks Monday, running backs Tuesday, wide receivers Wednesday, tight ends Thursday and the offensive line Friday. Now we’ll look at linebackers.
Picks: No. 32
Mack Wilson, Alabama
It would be surprising if Wilson really is the Patriots’ first-round pick, but there isn’t really a better player for this spot. Linebackers Devin White and Devin Bush are expected to be gone well before the Patriots are picking in the first round. They might even be out of reach for a trade up.
Wilson is a fit for the Patriots, he just might not be worth the 32nd overall pick. He’s a take-on linebacker who’s strong as a blitzer.
Picks: Nos. 56, 64
Germaine Pratt, North Carolina State
Pratt is an interesting prospect in that he’s a former safety who’s better as a pass rusher and run defender than he is in coverage. At 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, he has the right size for a Patriots linebacker. He was highly productive in limited pass-rush snaps, registering six sacks, seven quarterback hits and 13 hurries on just 72 opportunities, per Pro Football Focus.
Picks: Nos. 73, 97, 101
Tre Lamar, Clemson
Lamar is a massive linebacker at 6-foot-4, 253 pounds. There’s really no consensus on when he might come off the board, but given his size, the Patriots might value him more than most teams. He’s not the best athlete, but he’s an excellent run defender and decent blitzer.
Picks: No. 134
Jahlani Tavai, Hawaii
Tavai has been a late riser in the draft process. He’s another big linebacker at 6-foot-2, 250 pounds. Pro Football Focus graded him well as a run defender.
Sione Takitaki, BYU
Takitaki is a well-rounded prospect who has impressive athleticism for his 6-foot-1, 233-pound frame. He can contribute as a stand-up linebacker or on the edge.
Picks: No. 205
Gary Johnson, Texas
The Patriots typically save drafting undersized, speedy linebackers until the late rounds. Johnson ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at 6-feet, 226 pounds. If nothing else, he could contribute on special teams.
Picks: Nos. 243, 246, 252
Cody Barton, Utah
This is where Barton currently is ranked on draft sites, but we can see him coming off the board earlier. He tested extremely well at 6-foot-2, 237 pounds, running a 4.64-second 40-yard dash with a 6.9-second 3-cone and 4.03-second short shuttle. PFF graded him well in coverage and as a run defender.