Here’s the Patriots’ current linebacker picture:
Roster locks: Ja’Whaun Bentley, Dont’a Hightower, Brandon King, Kyle Van Noy
On the bubble: Terez Hall, Calvin Munson, Elandon Roberts, Christian Sam
Only Hall, an undrafted free agent, is new to this group. Hightower, King, Van Noy and Roberts finished the 2018 season on the Patriots’ active roster. Bentley and Sam, both rookies in 2018, finished the year on injured reserve, while Munson was on the practice squad.
Veteran linebackers/special teams aces Albert McClellan and Ramon Humber remain on the open market as free agents.
Bentley, Hightower and Van Noy currently project as Week 1 starters. Bentley is expected to serve as the Patriots’ inside linebacker if he stays healthy in 2019. Hightower and Van Noy likely will play hybrid outside linebacker/edge roles. Both have the versatility to play inside, however.
King is a special-teams player who won’t play on defense unless there’s an emergency situation.
Among the group of bubble players, Roberts has the greatest chance of making the 53-man roster. He’s likely to be back after playing well while filling in for Bentley in 2018. He had his best season as an early-down run stuffer in the Patriots’ front seven last season. He’s played 38.4, 55.2 and 35.5 percent of snaps in 2018, 2017 and 2016, respectively.
Hall has upside as a Roberts-esque gap-shooter. The Missouri product is slightly undersized at 6-foot-1, 228 pounds. His 4.9-second 40-yard dash is deceiving. He pulled up with an injury 30 yards into the run.
Munson impressed teammates and coaches on the practice squad last season. The 24-year-old played 14 games, starting five, with the New York Giants as a rookie in 2017. He joined the Patriots’ practice squad in October and embraced his role with open arms. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could serve as a backup linebacker/special teamer next season.
Sam, 22, has some upside as a 2018 sixth-round pick. He was placed on IR last September then underwent undisclosed surgery. He has a solid chance of making the 2019 roster with a strong summer. He has good size and solid athleticism at 6-foot-2, 240 pounds.
With Hightower, Van Noy, Bentley and King as locks, there are probably two open spots for Roberts, Sam, Hall and Munson, unless the Patriots add another linebacker before September. Roberts and Sam have the best shot for slots, but Hall and Munson are in the mix, making this an interesting position to watch in OTAs, minicamp and training camp.