There's a reason why many NFL mock drafts -- including the last from our Phil Perry -- had the New England Patriots selecting a linebacker in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Linebacker looked like a major need for New England after the Buffalo Bills exploited the team's lack of defensive speed in the AFC Wild Card Game, scoring touchdowns on all seven of their possessions. The Patriots have begun their linebacker overhaul by parting ways with Kyle Van Noy, not re-signing Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins (so far) and trading for a speedier 'backer in Mack Wilson.
But the 2022 draft seemed like a good area to get even younger and even faster at the position. So, why did the Patriots not use any of their 10 selections on a linebacker? Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh said this weekend he's confident in the current depth chart.
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"Really excited about that group," Groh said during a conference call after Day 2 of the draft. "Excited to see Cam McGrone was able to get on the field a little bit last year, excited to see him be in an expanded role. He’s kind of an additional draft pick.
"You can kind of put him along there with the three guys that we’ve been able to add here today along with some of the other guys from last year. That all kind of counts to getting younger, getting faster, being a tough team."
McGrone, the Patriots' fifth-round pick in 2021, missed his entire rookie season due to a torn ACL he suffered at Michigan in 2020. But the team apparently has faith in McGrone and Raekwon McMillan, who missed the 2021 season with a torn ACL as well after New England added the three-year veteran in free agency last year.
Groh also pointed to the Patriots' trade for Wilson while spotlighting Ja’Whaun Bentley, who currently is the team's longest-tenured linebacker with four years of experience in New England.
"Being able to add Mack Wilson, I know a lot was going on in free agency, and it was a trade and not a signing, but I think that was a really important part of adding some depth to the linebacking corps along with being able to get Ja’Whaun Bentley back," Groh said.
"Really excited to have him and his experience, as well. I think we’ve got a lot of names there and a lot of experience, and mix in some youth, so I think it’s a good group."
That linebacker "core" of Bentley, Wilson, McGrone and McMillan is younger and faster than last year's group led by Hightower, Van Noy and Collins. But it also features two players who didn't play a snap last season and only one who suited up for the Patriots last year.
Why the Patriots used their draft capital on two more running backs and another quarterback instead of preparing for the future at linebacker is one of the many questionable decisions New England made over the weekend. But at least we have the team's explanation.