Patriots Linebackers Outlook: Assessing Group’s Strengths, Weaknesses

Will Bill Belichick change his ways?


Feb 22, 2023

As the March 15 start of the new NFL league year approach, we’re taking a position-by-position look at the New England Patriots roster.

Who’s returning? Who could be out the door? What are the biggest questions facing each group?

Next up: the linebackers.

Ja’Whaun Bentley
Anfernee Jennings
Matthew Judon
Josh Uche
Jahlani Tavai
Ronnie Perkins
Terez Hall
Calvin Munson
Olakunle Fatukasi

Mack Wilson
Raekwon McMillan

2022 STATS
Judon (17 games): 60 tackles (14 for loss), 15.5 sacks, 28 QB hits, two forced fumbles

Tavai (17 games): 69 tackles (two for loss), 1.5 sacks, four QB hits

Bentley (17 games): 125 tackles (five for loss), three sacks, six QB hits, one interception

Wilson (17 games): 36 tackles (two for loss), 1.5 sacks, two QB hits, one forced fumble

McMillan (16 games): 35 tackles (five for loss), one sack, one QB hit, one fumble recovery for TD

Jennings (16 games): 27 tackles (one for loss), 1.5 sacks, four QB hits, one forced fumble

Uche (15 games): 27 tackles (nine for loss), 11.5 sacks, 14 QB hits, two forced fumbles

Is Josh Uche for real? Uche, a second-round pick in 2020, was a seldom-used disappointment his first two seasons. But the Michigan product broke out in 2022, racking up 11.5 sacks while providing needed pass-rushing production opposite Judon, who even called him the best pure pass rusher on the roster.

Uche showed explosiveness, a surprising array of pass-rush moves and an ability to win difficult matchups. He still primarily filled a sub-rusher role, but the coaching staff nevertheless showed increased confidence in the third-year pro.

But was Uche’s performance a fluke, or was it evidence of a player who’s ready to become a consistent, long-term force in New England’s defense? Uche is entering a contract year and will earn a major payday if he can replicate his production from this season.

2. Will Bill Belichick change his philosophy? The Patriots last offseason acknowledged their need to infuse the linebacking group with speed and playmaking ability. So, they went out and added Wilson, doubled down on 2021 fifth-rounder Cameron McGrone and opened training camp believing McMillan would provide explosiveness at the second level.

By the end of the season, McGrone was with the Indianapolis Colts, Wilson was relegated to special teams and McMillan wasn’t doing much of anything. Bentley and Tavai, two solid but unspectacular and relatively slow linebackers, got the majority of the snaps in the middle. Belichick again prioritized scheme-responsible defenders over those with more athleticism and playmaking ability. He even brought back Jamie Collins for another tour of duty.

That must change next season. Players such as Bentley and Tavai are fine against the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns of the world, but get exposed against more high-powered offenses. And there’s a decent chance that neither Wilson nor McMillan are back next season.

So, New England almost certainly will add a linebacker or two this offseason, be it via the draft, a trade or free agency. The question is whether they’ll recruit the kinds of players they need or the ones they feel the most comfortable with.

3. Can Matthew Judon keep it up? Judon was a monster all season, erasing concerns over his quiet finish to the 2021 campaign. He nearly set a Patriots team record for sacks in a single season and, more often than not, was New England’s best player on the field.

And he’ll need to do it again in 2023. As currently constituted, the Patriots’ defense needs Judon to play at an elite level for it to have a chance against good offenses. The emergence of Uche can lighten the burden on Judon, but not if he’s only playing in pass-rushing situations. The same can be said for defensive tackle Christian Barmore.

Judon, who’ll turn 31 in August, saw a ton of playing time over his first two seasons in New England and figures to carry a similar load in 2023. If he shows any signs of regression, the Patriots’ defense could be in real trouble.

More positional outlooks: quarterbacks l running backs l receivers l cornerbacks | defensive line | tight ends

Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images
St. Louis Blues forward Ivan Barbashev
Previous Article

NHL Insider Names Bruins As ‘Potential Fit’ For Blues’ Ivan Barbashev

Next Article

UEFA Europa League Best Bets – Round of 32

Picked For You