Throughout Bill Belichick Era, the New England Patriots defense has always been led by a stud linebacker. From Tedy Bruschi to Jerod Mayo to Dont’a Hightower, the Patriots linebackers have always been the focal point of the defense. This trend should continue into 2019, as the New England Patriots linebacker depth chart is one of the deepest and most impressive groupings in the league.
Breaking Down New England Patriots Linebacker Depth Chart
The Starters: Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy
Thanks to today’s pass-happy NFL, defenses are spending more time than ever aligned in nickel formations. Because of this, defenses typically only have two pure linebackers on the field at the same time. Barring health, those two players will be Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy.
Hightower started off slow in 2018 but returned to his old form midway through the season. The star linebacker finished his season with 48 tackles, one interception, and three tackles-for-loss. Hightower always plays his best in the Super Bowl, and 2018 was no exception. Hightower finished Super Bowl LIII with two sacks, two tackles-for-loss, and three quarterback hits while holding the Rams to just three points. The eight-year NFL veteran can play all three linebacker positions and even line up as a defensive end when required.
Kyle Van Noy has completely transformed from a draft bust with the Detroit Lions to a key cog in New England’s defense. Initially acquired for next-to-nothing at the 2016 trade deadline, Van Noy has quietly developed into one of the better linebackers in the NFL. He filled in admirably for an injured Hightower in 2017 before transforming into New England’s best linebacker for the majority of the 2018 season. These two should remain one of the best linebacker duos in football as long as both can remain on the field.
The Breakout Star: Ja’Whaun Bentley
He’s only played in three NFL games, but expectations are sky high for second-year linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley. Bentley, a fifth-round pick out of Purdue, was one of the best early-season surprises in 2018. The rookie had a fantastic preseason, demonstrating the ability to make plays against both the pass and the run. That playmaking ability carried over into the regular season, as Bentley looked like one of the biggest steals of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Unfortunately, Bentley’s season ended on a sour note. Bentley suffered a biceps injury late in Week Three, prematurely ending his season. Fortunately, Bentley should be completely healthy and ready to prove his rookie season wasn’t a small-sample fluke. With Hightower getting older, Bentley could develop into New England’s next great linebacker.
High-Upside Depth: Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts
The Patriots added an old friend this past week in Jamie Collins. Collins was one of the best and most exciting linebackers in the league when in New England, but his career took a nosedive after joining the Cleveland Browns. Seemingly content with his massive payday, Collins’ effort took a notable dip and he wasn’t the same explosive player he once was.
Nobody should expect Collins to magically regain his 2014 form. That said, he still has the ability to be a valuable contributor to the defense. As of now, nobody knows the details of Collins’ contract. However, a one-year deal with incentives makes a lot of sense for both sides.
Elandon Roberts may be a limited player, but he’s pretty good when given a small role. He doesn’t have the speed to be a sideline-to-sideline linebacker, but he’s a great north-south run stuffer a la Brandon Spikes. The former sixth-round pick notably improved his play in 2018, hitting the right holes and doing a better job of staying in position.
Collins and Roberts could be fighting for one job, as neither player brings much on special teams. The fifth linebacker typically doesn’t see the field that often and needs to earn their spot through special teams snaps. Assuming everyone stays healthy, this will be one of the most intriguing battles to watch throughout the summer.
The Depth: Brandon King, Calvin Munson
Brandon King is a lock for the 53-man roster. While he rarely plays defense, King has established himself as one of New England’s core special teams members. Just like Nate Ebner and Matthew Slater, King will be around New England for quite some time.
Calvin Munson and faces long odds to make the roster. Munson spent a portion of the 2018 season on New England’s practice squad, so the coaches should be familiar with his skillset. Since joining the league back in 2017, Munson has recorded 60 tackles, two sacks, and one forced fumble.
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