2020 NFL Draft: Prototypical Patriots fits at linebacker
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), Dont'a Hightower (6-2, 265), Jamie Collins (6-3, 250). Their last mid-round investment at the position was a fifth-round pick spent on Ja'Whaun Bentley (6-2, 255).
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.
Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma
6-foot-2, 241 pounds
One of the best athletes at the position in this year's class, Murray is one of the few true 'backers considered to be a first-round talent in 2020. His combine numbers were ridiculous: 4.52-second 40 (96th percentile for linebackers), 1.54-second 10-yard split (98th percentile), 38-inch vertical (91st), 129-inch broad (97th).
A four-year starter for the Sooners, he's more of a run-and-chase player than a true "thumper." But he looks big enough by Patriots standards. He could be a consideration at pick No. 23 if the Patriots want to add to their front seven early.
2020 NFL Draft Highlights: Kenneth Murray
Malik Harrison, Ohio State
6-foot-3, 247 pounds
Perhaps the best fit for the Patriots in this year's class, Harrison has more than enough size to do what Belichick asks of players at the linebacker spot. He's an explosive athlete packaged in that frame (122-inch broad jump, 36-inch vertical) who won't hesitate to pop blockers when heading downhill. He's also surprisingly agile for his size with a 4.66-second 40 and an impressive 6.83-second three-cone drill (94th percentile).
If he's available at the bottom of the third round — where the Patriots have three picks — it'd come as little surprise if they pounced. "He's really heavy playing downhill," said Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy, who scouted for the Patriots. "I know Bill's going to like that."
2020 NFL Draft Highlights: Malik Harrison
Logan Wilson, Wyoming
6-foot-2, 241 pounds
A four-year starter for the Cowboys and a three-year captain, Wilson was named first-team All-MWC and a third-team All-American for his work last season (104 tackles, three picks). Size? Good enough. Production? It's there, though at a lower level of competition. Leadership? Check.
"I don't think he's getting out of the second day," Nagy said. "I don't think he's getting out of the third. Could be the late second. An off-the-ball guy who can really run. Very athletic."
How athletic? His 4.63 40 time put him in the 82nd percentile of linebackers. His 1.54 10-second split was remarkable (98th percentile). And his 121-inch broad indicated that he's got an explosive lower half. That athleticism showed up oftentimes as a blitzer in college, where he racked up 51 pressures on 229 pass-rush snaps, per Pro Football Focus. He's not the "modern" linebacker, but that's not usually what the Patriots have drafted up high anyway.
2020 NFL Draft Highlights: Logan Wilson
Jordyn Brooks, Texas Tech
6-feet, 240 pounds
Not the biggest in this crop of "Prototypes," but Brooks plays like a old-school, hit-everything-that-moves linebacker. He's another four-year starter who has eye-opening athletic traits.
His 40 time (4.54 seconds) and 10-yard split (1.53 seconds) easily put him over the 90th percentile in both events. A second-team All-American last year, he should be available in the middle rounds for a team like the Patriots that values run-stoppers and special-teamers.
2020 NFL Draft Highlights: Jordyn Brooks
Jordan Mack, Virginia
6-foot-3, 241 pounds
Another off-the-ball player right in New England's wheelhouse, even if he's not going to be a Day 1 or Day 2 choice. He's been starting since his freshman season at UVA, finishing his career off with a senior year in which he racked up 7.5 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.
Mack isn't going to be anyone's answer to covering backs out of the backfield, but he's bright and will be able to mentally handle anything that's thrown at him in the NFL. He was a finalist for the "academic Heisman," the Campbell Trophy, last season.
Daniel Bituli, Tennessee
6-foot-2, 246 pounds
Another classic Patriots fit in terms of his height and weight, Bituli certainly has the college production thing going for him as well. A team captain and second-team All-SEC selection from Jerod Mayo's old program, Bituli led the Vols in tackles for the third straight year in 2019. He's only the second player in team history to pull that off. (A.J. Johnson, 2012-14, was the other.)
Well-built, with long arms and "heavy hands," per NFL.com's Lance Zierlein, Bituli is more old-school hammer than next-level athlete.
Willie Gay Jr., Mississippi State
6-foot-1, 243 pounds
Here's your next-level athlete. Total freak. He was a 99th percentile tester in the broad jump (136 inches), 40 (4.46 seconds) and 10-yard split (1.50 seconds). His vertical wasn't too shabby, either (39.5 inches, 96th percentile). Gay is built to cover at the next level and has the size to be effective against the run with a little more polish.
Where he's far from the "Prototype," though? He's missed time for injuries and disciplinary reasons, including eight games missed this year due to NCAA violations.
Kamal Martin, Minnesota
6-foot-3, 240 pounds
Martin's arm length (34 inches) makes him look like an edge defender, which is where he started his collegiate career. He's turned himself into an NFL option as an off-the-ball linebacker with good size and movement skills. He didn't test at the combine, but he looks capable of covering at the second level — perhaps thanks to the number of reps he saw with the Gophers as a slot coverage player.
On the downside? PFF had him down for 10 missed tackles or more in both 2018 and 2019. Like Gay, he has off-the-field issues that'll need to be vetted. He was suspended by the team for its 2018 bowl game as well as the 2019 opener.
Shaun Bradley, Temple
6-foot-1, 235 pounds
Bradley doesn't quite meet the 240-pound threshold we've focused on here, but his athleticism is impressive and might make him a special teams fit for Bill Belichick. A core special-teamer as well as a three-year defensive starter, Bradley put up a 40 time (4.51 seconds) and 10-yard split (1.54 seconds) at the combine that put him in the 97th and 98th percentile, respectively, in those events.
He was named a second-team All-American in 2019 and the Owls honored him with a "Temple Tough" single-digit number before the 2018 season. He doesn't check every box, but he checks a bunch.
Dante Olson, Montana
6-foot-2, 237 pounds
Sure, Olson didn't light up a Power Five conference while at Montana. But you'd be hard-pressed to find a more productive player the last two years. He was a first-team all-conference selection and an FCS All-American in both 2018 and 2019. He was the Big Sky Defensive Player of the year last season with 179 tackles (best in the country) that included 11 for a loss, as well as 3.5 sacks and a pick.
Though he hails from a smaller program, he's a pro-caliber athlete, posting great results in the broad jump (124 inches), the three-cone (7.0 seconds) and the 10-yard split of his 40 (1.59 seconds). His vertical of 42 inches was ridiculous (99th percentile). PFF says he missed just eight of his 151 tackle attempts. As a Day 3 choice, why not take a shot?