Bill Belichick‘s New England Patriots have always been synonymous with great linebacker play. From Tedy Bruschi to Jerod Mayo to Dont’a Hightower, the Patriots have always had a top linebacker at the heart of their defense. Hightower and Kyle Van Noy still have a few years left in their tank, but New England might have found their next great linebacker in Ja’Whaun Bentley.
New England Patriots X-Factors: Ja’Whaun Bentley
Nobody expected much of anything from Ja’Whaun Bentley when he first joined the Patriots. Selected in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, most expected Bentley to fight for one of the last spots on the Patriots roster. He was supposedly a north-south linebacker who didn’t have the speed or agility to go sideline-to-sideline.
Bentley immediately proved that scouting report wrong in the preseason. The rookie was one of New England’s best defenders in August and seemingly made big plays every time he stepped on the field. Playing in three of the four preseason games, Bentley recorded 15 tackles, one pass defended, one forced fumble, and even returned a fumble for a touchdown. He demonstrated the ability to make plays all over the field both against the run and the pass.
Bentley’s impressive preseason earned him a starting spot in the Week One lineup, and the fifth-round selection proved his preseason wasn’t a fluke. Appearing in three games (starting two), Bentley recorded 14 tackles, one quarterback hit, one interception, and one pass defended. With Hightower slowly working his way back from injury, Bentley essentially served as the top linebacker alongside Kyle Van Noy.
Unfortunately, Bentley didn’t have the chance to build on his hot start to the season. The rookie suffered a biceps injury late in New England’s 26-10 loss to the Detroit Lions and landed on the injured reserve. Since Duke Dawson and Rex Burkhead were already designated to return from their respective injured reserve stints, Bentley’s season was over before it really began.
Bentley will need to prove that he’s fully healthy and ready to go for the start of the season. The good news is that there’s every reason to believe that he will return to full strength for Week One. Torn biceps typically takes about three to four months for a full recovery, so Bentley should be ready right now. Additionally, a bicep injury doesn’t carry the potential to permanently sap away strength as a lower-body injury could. From a physicality standpoint, Bentley should be his old self by the time the regular season kicks off.
Bentley will also need to overcome the added focus from opposing offensive coordinators. Bentley looked fantastic in a small sample, but now opposing teams can study his NFL film. Teams will be more adept at attacking his weaknesses and avoiding his strengths. Bentley will need to prove that he’s able to handle these adjustments and remain a productive NFL player.
Last Word on Ja’Whaun Bentley
Ja’Whaun Bentley was a steal in the fifth round and should be one of New England’s best defenders in the 2019 season. Bentley displayed great athleticism, ball skills, and tackling ability throughout his rookie year and those skills should carry over into 2019.
Bentley is coming off of a season-ending injury but should easily be ready for the start of the season. The biggest concern with Bentley is his long-term health. The Purdue product will need to prove that he can stay healthy for the duration of a season. Back in college, Bentley only played double-digit games in two of a possible four seasons.
Additionally, opposing offensive coordinators will have a better idea of how to attack Bentley. Bentley will need to prove that he’s able to handle these adjustments and remain a productive player. Ultimately, he should be able to do this. Bentley displayed an ability to be effective in multiple areas of the game and should be able to handle anything opposing offensive coordinators throw his way.
If Bentley can build on his rookie season and stay healthy, then New England could have one of the best linebacker trios in the league. Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy are both great players, but adding Bentley to the mix could send New England’s defense over the top.
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