The Patriots currently have four inside linebackers under contract; Jerod Mayo, Tedy Bruschi, Gary Guyton, and Eric Alexander. Last year, they lived off of a rotation of Mayo (who played all three downs and most sub-packages), Tedy Bruschi (first two downs), and Gary Guyton (passing downs). They also brought in Junior Seau late in the year to replace an injured Tedy Bruschi (and he showed tremendous effectiveness). While this group looks pretty strong for the short term, the Patriots may be looking for a two down run stuffing inside linebacker for the future, as this is likely Tedy Bruschi’s last year. They could look towards a round one selection, such as USC’s Rey Maualuga, or a mid to later selection such as a Nick Reed from Oregon, Frantz Joseph from Florida Atlantic, Jasper Brinkley from South Carolina, Antonio Appleby from Virginia or a Tyrone McKenzie from South Florida.
Current Grade: B+
Tedy Bruschi: It is clear that at this point in his career, Tedy Bruschi’s skills have greatly diminished. Still, he is a great locker room prescence and a very smart football player. And because of this, he is very valuable. However, he enters the final year of his contract and will likely retire after the 2009 season.
Jerod Mayo: What can I say about Mayo? He does it all. Run defense, pass defense, etc etc. But the best thing about Mayo is that he loves the game of football, he loves being in the film room, he wants to improve in every possible way. The sky is the limit for the defending Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Gary Guyton: Gary Guyton surprised a lot of people as a rookie free agent last year. Just a few weeks into the season, he was part of a 3 man rotation at the inside linebacker position, playing mostly on passing downs. He did a nice job, and I would expect him to retain a similar role in 2009.
Eric Alexander: Alexander missed spent almost the entire 2008 season on injured reserve. After inking a one year extension with the Pats this offseason, Alexander looks to become the leader on special teams for the Patriots, taking over the role that belonged to Larry Izzo.
Draft Prospects:* (Probability of Patriots drafting in italics, 1-10, ten being the highest)
Tyrone McKenzie, South Florida: Plays with a high motor, and is a very smart player (in the mold of Jerod Mayo). Has good range and instincts, but is a bit of a shoestring tackler and not the most physical. Probability: 6.0 | Grade: 6.5
Frantz Joseph, Florida Atlantic: Joseph has worked to bulk up recently, and like McKenzie, loves being in the film room and studying opponents. He is a very hard worker and a good character. While he doesn’t have tremendous speed, he is very physical and productive. He can shed blocks, and while he might not have the athleticism for coverage, he seems to get the job done. He is the prototypical two down linebacker with a great character that the Patriots might just be looking for. Probability: 5.0 | Grade: 7.0
Jasper Brinkley, South Carolina: Big, strong linebacker that could be a perfect fit in the 3-4. Shows good short area quickness, and is a nasty and physical tackler. Still, he sometimes relies on his physical attributes too much, and lacks intstincts. Probability: 5.5 | Grade: 6.5
Jason Williams, Western Illinois: Fast, quick inside linebacker with pass rush skills (might be undersized, but could line up on the outside as well) with good fundamentals and instincts in coverage, but lacks brute strength. Probability: 5.5 | Grade: 6.5
Antonio Appleby, Virginia: Another prototypical 3-4 two-down inside linebacker. Has great size and strength, and can square up to make tackles, as well as take on blocks. A perfect system fit, but lacks speed in coverage, and has some off the field baggage. Probability: 4.5 | Grade: 6.5
Rey Maualuga, USC: Explosive, aggresive run defender who shows good hands in coverage. He diagnoses plays quickly and has a great short area burst. However, is a little tight in the hips and is often over-aggresive, which can lead to missed tackles. Probability: 6.0 | Grade: 8.5
Brian Cushing, USC: Strong and physical player who has good awareness and can take on and control blockers. He has all of the skills you could ask for, but there are questions about whether or not he could fit as a 3-4 inside linebacker (although his strong work ethic and versatility (ILB, OLB, S, DE) could prove to help. Probability: 3.0 | Grade: 8.5
Stanley Arnoux, Wake Forest: Lacks big time size and his instincts are poor, but is a sound and productive tackler who has great speed and is willing to take on blocks. Probability: 3.0 | Grade: 4.5
*= These “draft prospects” are players that the Patriots are actually looking at picking up or have shown a legitimate interest in.