The legacy of New England Patriots linebackers includes some of the top players in NFL history.
Players like Nick Buoniconti, Steve Nelson, Andre Tippett, Tedy Bruschi and Willie McGinest were all inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame. That's not even including players like Mike Vrabel, Dont'a Hightower or Rob Ninkovich, who all made key contributions in some of the biggest playoff games in team history.
As we enter season number 23 under Bill Belichick, the linebacker position feels like it's going through some transition. Veteran leaders Hightower and Jamie Collins remain unsigned in free agency, and Kyle Van Noy was released and recently signed a deal with the Los Angeles Chargers.
As the team heads into 2022, aside from Matthew Judon and Ja'Whan Bentley, who both recently signed deals with the team, there are a lot of unknowns. Judon signed a hefty contract last offseason and was undoubtedly New England's best player, and Bentley signed a two-year deal this offseason. Both of those players will provide leadership and are expected to be the backbone of the linebacker room, however the rest of the Patriots linebackers are filled with questions, such as whether or not Josh Uche will finally break out, or if newcomer Mack Wilson can be a solid contributor after being traded here in the offseason. How about Ronnie Perkins, a rookie last year who didn't see a single game-day snap? In the same fashion, can Anfernee Jennings, a third-rounder in 2020, finally be counted on after missing all of last season?
The absence of these players, however, does not appear to be a problem. In fact, Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo feels confident about his linebacker room.
“I always look at the linebacker position as a combination of skills, Mayo said. “You have to play the run, and you have to play the pass. I would say the guys we have now they're working hard, they're getting better each and every day, and I'm excited to work with this group.”
While there is no guarantee any further moves will be made to address the depth at the position, it seems the Patriots are willing to start the preparation for this upcoming season with who they currently have in the room. This year's linebacking unit is young, but filled with plenty of potential and room for growth. The unit will be tested this year as new players look to emerge, and players coming back from injury are fighting for starting roles. Time will tell whether or not it can live up to the expectations.
"The guys that we have, you know, I'm happy with the group that we have, and these guys are going to go out there and they're going to perform."