By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Patriots drafted former Purdue linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley with the 143rd overall pick, their first selection on day 3 of the 2018 NFL Draft on Saturday.
Bentley is described in his NFL.com Draft Profile as a "thick-framed inside linebacker with a thirst for contact." The 6-foot-2, 260-pound 'backer projects as a powerful run-stopper with physical limitations that prevent him from being used in most passing down situations. As far as former Patriots, an apt comparison would be Brandon Spikes.
Here are some of Bentley's strengths, via NFL.com:
"Built like a stack of bricks with the frame of an old school inside linebacker. ... Extremely strong for his position with 31 bench reps at his pro day. Tough, willing banger at the point of attack who is hard to move in heads-up battle. ... Above average playing off blocks and finding tackles. Strikes with his full weight behind his pads and is a wrap-up tackler."
And a sampling of his weaknesses:
"Diagnose to reaction time is average. ... Struggles to disengage quickly from angle blocks on his edge. Build-up speed limits his sideline to sideline range. Below average agility to unlock tackle opportunities at challenging angles. ... Has missed games in three straight seasons including an ACL tear in 2015. Stiff in his drops and open field coverage on passing downs."
Combine Bentley with the return of Dont'a Hightower, the acquisition of Danny Shelton, and another year of possible improvement for Malcom Brown, then the Patriots will likely be much more stout against the run than they were in 2017. Free-agent signing Adrian Clayborn can also set the edge on early downs.
The Patriots' 2018 draft class will, at best, include lottery picks in terms of linebackers who can cover well against receiving backs and tight ends in passing situations. That weakness burned them in the Super Bowl against the Eagles, and even the Jaguars exploited it in the AFC Championship Game.
The Pats still need to find a way to address that particular need, but it's clear that need isn't something Bill Belichick thinks about too much at the draft. Ultimately, Bentley will pop off TV screens when he gets a chance to thump running backs at the point of attack and over the middle of the field, and his presence should put Elandon Roberts on notice at training camp.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].