The linebackers coveted by the New England Patriots are, for the most part, a dying breed.
The Patriots have drafted 17 off-the-line linebackers in Bill Belichick’s tenure as head coach. Of those 17 players, 13 have weighed 240 pounds or more. And the four players who weighed under 240 pounds are serious outliers.
That being said, the Patriots have selected three linebackers weighing under 240 pounds in the past five years. At the same time, Matthew Wells (222 pounds) and Kamu Grugier-Hill (208 pounds), both sixth-round picks, didn’t make it out of training camp with the Patriots.
Here’s the Patriots’ full history of drafting off-the-line linebackers.
Pure size matters much more to the Patriots than any testing number. The Patriots have been willing to spend draft picks on Brandon Spikes, who ran a 5-second 40-yard dash, and Xzavier Dickson, whose leaping numbers would be weak for a player 40 pounds heavier. Even Dont’a Hightower, one of the greatest linebackers in Patriots history, posted rough 3-cone and short shuttle times.
Here are the 40 linebackers who worked out at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine and their measurables.
We highlighted each measurable in green if it was better than the average Patriots drafted linebacker. We highlighted it in red if the Patriots have never drafted a linebacker with that poor of a testing number.
So, remember that 240-pound threshold? There were only 11 of 40 linebackers at the combine who weighed 240 pounds or heavier and just four hit the Patriots’ average. Now, does that mean the Patriots wouldn’t draft Isaiah Simmons or Zack Baun if they were available at the right spot? No, probably not. But the Patriots do demand their linebackers to thump. And typically bigger players can thump better than smaller ones (Elandon Roberts excluded).
Based on size, athleticism and skill, Malik Harrison and Willie Gay Jr. are probably the best fits for the Patriots who need a starting-caliber linebacker to throw into the mix with Hightower and Ja’Whaun Bentley. Harrison and Gay are both considered Day 2 picks.
Baun is more of an outside linebacker/hybrid-edge player, but he and Kenneth Murray could be options with the Patriots’ first-round pick at No. 23 overall.
Logan Wilson is a nice mid-round option if the Patriots are looking for a linebacker early on Day 3 of the draft. Evan Weaver, Carter Coughlin, a possible edge conversion, and Daniel Bituli are later-round possibilities.
If the Patriots are looking for a player more similar to Wells or Grugier-Hill as a hybrid-box player, then Chinn could be a fit. He’s been described as a poor man’s Simmons. Chinn might ultimately be drafted as a safety, but at 6-foot-3, 221 pounds, he has the size to play in the box as an outside linebacker, strong safety or slot similar to Patrick Chung or Adrian Phillips. Akeem Davis-Gaither is another player with the potential for that role.
The Patriots only have three off-the-line linebackers on their roster in Hightower, Bentley and Terez Hall after losing Roberts, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins in free agency. They need to fill out their depth with a potential starter. It would not be surprising if they wound up grabbing Murray, Baun, Harrison or Gay.