Prototypical Patriots

Perry's Prototypical Patriots: Which LBs are best fits in New England?

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The New England Patriots have a type at the linebacker position. But will they be able to find that type in the 2021 NFL Draft?While the Patriots traditionally have favored bigger, stronger linebackers in the draft, this year's crop skews more toward the lighter, athletic side. That said, there still are a handful of 'backers who fit New England's mold -- including a few who could entice the team early on draft weekend.Phil Perry's Prototypical Patriots series continues with a look at the linebackers in this year's draft class who fit what New England traditionally looks for at the position.

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The Patriots value power in their inside linebackers. Take a look at the off-the-ball types they've drafted in the first three rounds since Bill Belichick too the reins in 2000: Jerod Mayo (6-foot-2, 242 pounds), Tyrone McKenzie (6-2, 243), Brandon Spikes (6-3, 249 pounds), Dont'a Hightower (6-2, 265), Jamie Collins (6-3, 250), Josh Uche (6-1, 245), Anfernee Jennings (6-2, 256). Their last several Day 3 investments at the position were a fifth-round pick spent on Ja'Whaun Bentley (6-2, 255), a sixth on Christian Sam (6-1, 244) and a sixth on Cassh Maluia (6-0, 248). 

Physically, they have a type at that spot. Size (240 pounds or more), to take on offensive linemen in the running game, matters. College production that indicates a high football IQ is critical, too. Strong leadership qualities don't hurt, either.

In this day and age, bigger linebackers are going the way of the dinosaur, which actually makes identifying "prototypes" in New England a little easier. There just ain't that many.

Here are the ones we've found in this year's class.

 

Perry's Prototypical Patriots series: RBs
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 WRs
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TEs 
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OTs
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 Interior OLs 
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EDGEs 
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DTs
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 CBs
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Height, weight: 6-foot-5, 259 pounds

Collins is a rarity these days. Not only because of his frame, which makes him look like he's tackling a bunch of Lilliputians on a game-to-game basis. He's a very good athlete (35-inch vertical) who can get downhill in a hurry to thump in the running game or get after quarterbacks as a blitzer. He also has a tremendous level of athletic coordination -- he played baseball, basketball, participated in gymnastics and was a quarterback and safety growing up -- and length (33.5-inch arms) that make him an effective pass-rusher off the edge and a menace as a zone defender in coverage.

Then, when it comes to playmaking, Collins stands out. He had two interceptions returned for scores in 2020, including an overtime game-winner against Tulane. He also notched two more picks, a safety, four sacks, and he's blocked two kicks in his career. We get into why Collins, who was pre-med at Tulsa, is such a good fit for the Patriots in greater detail in this episode of Next Pats.

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Height, weight: 6-foot-3, 246 pounds

One of the most physically-gifted players in this year's draft class. Period. His combination of size and athleticism is through the roof, which you could see plainly on tape. But then he went and tested at his pro day and... sheesh. His 4.39-second 40 was incredible.

The only other off-ball linebacker in the draft with a sub-4.5 40 was Iowa's Nick Niemann (4.48). Parsons also had a broad jump of 126 inches, which put him in the 93rd percentile among linebackers. He's a little scattershot at times in terms of his diagnosing from the second level. And he has character concerns that teams have been vetting. But his movement skills, frame and versatility -- he'd be one of the best edge defenders in the class if teams wanted to play him there -- make him a good fit for the Patriots.

It'd be a surprise if they were to take a chance on his personality in the top half of the first round, but perhaps his natural ability is enough for them to feel comfortable with him as their first pick.

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Height, weight: 6-foot-3, 245 pounds

In terms of raw gifts, Browning actually isn't that far off from what Parsons brings to the table. But instead of spending an early pick on him, as would be the case with Parsons, Browning might be available early on Day 3.

He ran a blazing 6.78-second three-cone drill (94th percentile) as well as a very strong 4.51-second 40 (92nd), and his jumps were elite. He recorded a 40-inch vertical (96th) and a 130-inch broad (98th). And like Parsons, he could provide some depth on the edge wherever he ends up.

Versatile? And a good enough athlete to hold up in the kicking game as he learns how to play the way Belichick will want at the second level? On Day 3? Patriots fit.

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Height, weight: 6-feet, 238 pounds

There are a few more 240-pounders on this year's list of Prototypes, but we're willing to bend the weight threshold here a bit in order to rank these next few players relatively highly on our list. What's a couple of pounds when at 238 you can be a one-man wrecking crew like Barnes? He's another linebacker in this class with on-ball (as a sophomore and junior) and off-ball (as a senior) versatility; he racked up 7.5 sacks in 12 starts in 2019 and he finished his career as a three-year starter with 225 tackles.

Even if he's a little light, he looks built to hold up at the second level, and his frenetic play style would seem to make him a natural in the kicking game. Helping Barnes' chances of landing in Foxboro would be that he was one of the highest-graded pass-rushers at this year's Senior Bowl, per Pro Football Focus. 

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