The New England Patriots took Michigan linebacker Cameron McGrone in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, but it might be best to consider him an early 2022 pick.
McGrone, who will turn 21 years old in June, tore his ACL in November. It would require a lightning-fast recovery time for McGrone to be ready for OTAs, minicamp, training camp, the preseason or even the start of the 2021 NFL regular season.
And the Patriots realize that.
“We’re not really sure what the expectation of availability is for him, but we’re prepared certainly to not have him available this year, but we’ll just have to wait and see how that goes,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said Saturday afternoon after the draft. “There are no false expectations here. He should have a good recovery and be a good player. We’ll just have to see what the timing is on that.”
The Patriots headed into the 2021 NFL Draft with linebacker viewed as a future need. Dont’a Hightower is back but will be a free agent after the season. Linebackers Ja’Whaun Bentley and Raekwon McMillan also are set to hit free agency next offseason. Kyle Van Noy and 2020 draft picks Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings (all of whom could be viewed as edge defenders) are the only potential off-ball linebackers signed past next season.
So, in an ideal world, McGrone will at least get some experience this season. But if he can’t, he could be groomed for a major role in 2022 and beyond.
“McGrone is a good football player, replaced (Devin) Bush at Michigan, and had a really good career there,” Belichick said.
“McGrone played a lot of football there. There’s plenty of football in McGrone, plenty against good competition as well. I don’t think his amount of playing time is an issue. Unfortunately, wasn’t able to finish the year this year. Just see where he is. He’s been a productive player on a good defense that was well coached by Coach (Don) Brown and played with Josh and Chase (Winovich) and plenty of other guys. (Ambry) Thomas was drafted. (Kwity) Paye was drafted. We’ve got a lot of good football players there. He was part of a really good group.”
McGrone is 6-foot-1, 237 pounds and didn’t work out at Michigan’s pro day because of the knee injury. He was known for his athleticism, instincts, quick-processing, range and hard-nosed style in college. PFF graded him well as a pass-rusher as a full-time starter in 2019, but coverage has never been his strong suit despite his athleticism. He had a 0.0% missed tackle rate in 2020.
“I feel like I?m a player that will do what?s asked whenever it?s needed,” McGrone said Saturday. “Wherever I have to be for the team, I?ll be there. Just an overall team player. I?m willing to sacrifice anything for the Patriots.”
Sure sounds like a Patriots linebacker.
McGrone is a player with a lot of potential, but it takes some time to see it flourish. The Patriots will likely place him on the physically unable to perform list when training camp begins. If he can get healthy by the start of the season, then he can start practicing at any time. If not, he could spend his rookie season on the PUP list before contributing in Year 2 when he’ll only be 22 years old.