Why Patriots Haven’t Taken Any Linebackers In 2022 NFL Draft

'He's kind of an additional draft pick'

by

April 30

Linebacker was widely viewed as one of New England’s biggest roster needs heading into the 2022 NFL Draft.

The Patriots evidently disagreed with that assessment.

After passing on Utah’s Devin Lloyd and Georgia’s Quay Walker in the first round to select Chattanooga guard Cole Strange, Bill Belichick’s club proceeded to ignore a parade of promising ‘backers in Rounds 2 and 3, opting instead to focus their attention on wide receiver (Baylor’s Tyquan Thornton, No. 50 overall) and cornerback (Houston’s Marcus Jones, No. 85 overall).

Every off-the-ball linebacker not named Lloyd or Walker remained on the board until No. 58, when Atlanta grabbed Montana State’s Troy Andersen.

Andersen was tabbed as a potential Patriots target during the pre-draft process, as were Wyoming’s Chad Muma (Jacksonville, No. 70), Alabama’s Christian Harris (Houston, No. 75), Georgia’s Nakobe Dean (Philadelphia, No. 83 after a precipitous draft-night slide), Georgia’s Channing Tindall (Miami, No. 102) and Wisconsin’s Leo Chenal (Kansas City, No. 103). New England opted not to select any of them.

Why not? Because they feel more confident in their current linebacking corps than the general public does.

Asked after Day 2 about the team’s lack of linebacker selections, Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh said he’s “really excited” about the ‘backers New England has. Groh also raved about 2021 fifth-round draft pick Cameron McGrone, who briefly practiced but never played last season as he recovered from a torn ACL.

That rookie redshirt allows Groh and the Patriots to treat McGrone, an undersized (6-foot-1, 236 pounds), athletic defender out of Michigan, as a de facto member of their 2022 draft class. Still just 21, McGrone might have been a Day 2 pick last year if not for his injury.

“(We’re) excited to see Cam McGrone was able to get on the field a little bit last year, excited to see him be in an expanded role,” Groh said Friday night. “He’s kind of an additional draft pick. You can kind of put him along there with the three guys that we’ve been able to add here today along with some of the other guys from last year. That all kind of counts to getting younger, getting faster, being a tough team.”

The 2021 Patriots lacked both youth and speed at the second level during their late-season nosedive, and they’ve since purged most of the elder statesmen from that position group, cutting Kyle Van Noy and allowing Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins to linger unsigned in free agency.

New England did re-sign fifth-year pro Ja’Whaun Bentley — a 255-pound thumper who aligns with the franchise’s long-held throwback ethos — but also swung an offseason trade for Mack Wilson, who, like McGrone, lacks traditional linebacker size at 6-foot-1, 233 pounds. The Patriots also will be getting Raekwon McMillan, who stands 6-2, 242 and impressed in training camp last summer, back from a season-ending torn ACL, and they still have 2020 second-rounder Josh Uche in the mix, even if he has yet to live up to the potential he’s shown on the practice field.

“Being able to add Mack Wilson … I think that was a really important part of adding some depth to the linebacking corps, along with being able to get Ja’Whaun Bentley back,” Groh said. “Really excited to have him and his experience, as well. I think we’ve got a lot of names there and a lot of experience, and mix in some youth, so I think it’s a good group.”

The Patriots could look to add one or more Day 3 picks to this group — they’ve drafted 14 linebackers in Rounds 6 and 7 under Belichick, nearly twice as many as any other position — or bring in another veteran in post-draft free agency, when external signings will no longer count toward next year’s compensatory pick formula. Potential draft targets still on the board entering Saturday include Cincinnati’s Darrian Beavers, Penn State’s Brandon Smith, Oklahoma State’s Malcolm Rodriguez, Iowa State’s Mike Rose, Indiana’s Micah McFadden and Arizona State’s Darien Butler.

All of those players would project as depth pieces and/or special teamers, however. The Patriots have had numerous opportunities to land a starting-caliber linebacker in this draft. But Groh’s comments made clear that doing so is not among their top priorities.

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