While pre-draft meetings don’t always tell a team’s entire strategy, the Patriots seem to be paying close attention to some of their biggest needs. The NFL Combine started with the Patriots meeting with a number of the top wide receivers in this class, and as we found out on Friday it turns out they’ve spoken with a wide range of linebackers as well.
Whereas about half of the wideouts the Patriots met with are projected first-round picks, the linebackers they spoke with are spread across the projected draft board. Although they’re spread a cross all three days of the draft, there’s plenty linking the group in terms of playstyle. Heading into the offseason, the Patriots are aiming to get “faster [and] more explosive” on defense, and these linebackers would help with that. It’s a group of players who can move east-west just as well as they can get north-south, without sacrificing too much size for athleticism.
The lone first round representative of this group is Utah’s Devin Lloyd, who is currently projected to be a top-20 pick. Speaking with the media on Friday, Lloyd described his play style as “smart and nasty,” which is a pretty solid summation of his game. Lloyd told reporters his meeting with the Patriots consisted of watching film and talking about his personal background. “They’re very intentional with the questions they ask,” he noted.
Lloyd is certainly an exciting prospect, but the sweet spot to take a linebacker when it comes to the Patriots is likely on Day 2. There’s a trio of linebackers – I’ve referred to them as the Big Three at times – who all are of similar size, play style, ability, and draft stock. While there are nuances to each of their games, Christian Harris of Alabama, Quay Walker of Georgia, and Chad Muma of Wyoming all fit the description of the kind of modern linebacker who can succeed in the Patriots’ defensive system. The Patriots met with all three, who are expected to go between the end of the second and middle of the third rounds.
One of the Day 3 prospects the Patriots met with is also one of the more unique prospects in the entire draft. Montana State linebacker Troy Andersen is a three-time All-Big Sky player - with one of those three coming as a quarterback. Andersen has changed positions a number of times, starting as a two-way running back/linebacker before moving to quarterback, then back to linebacker. All that movement gives him a unique view of the game, and while he's still raw techincally athletically he fits the profile of the other linebackers to meet with the Patriots.
A late Day 3 prospect, Texas A&M's Aaron Hansford has now met with the Patriots twice - once at the Senior Bowl and then again at the Combine. Hansford likes to play the game moving downhill but can move sideline-to-sideline as well. If the Patriots are looking for value or want to double-dip at the linebacker position, he'd make sense.
The Patriots also met with one outside linebacker/EDGE defender in USC's Drake Jackson. Jackson is more of a pure pass rusher and is likely to go on Day 2. the Patriots have taken such players regularly in the second and third rounds the last few years, including Ronnie Perkins (3rd round, 2021), Josh Uche (2nd round, 2020), Anfernee Jennings (3rd round, 2020) and Chase Winovich (3rd round, 2019).
Linebackers (and defensive linemen) will have their on-field workouts Saturday night. Those results will continue to build the picture of the overall board, although based on these meetings it seems the Patriots are ready to grab a linebacker wherever they need to.
2022 Patriots pre-draft meeting tracker
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Alex Barth is a writer and 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. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.