The Patriots 2018 draft class could be defined as either a success or failure. On one hand, there were several picks that ended up on IR, including Duke Dawson and Isaiah Wynn. Contrarily, Sony Michel and Keion Crossen both contributed in big ways for most of the season.
Michel very well could have had over 1,000 yards if he was healthy the whole year. Crossen was instrumental on special teams, and was good depth at cornerback. The rest of the rookie class didn’t contribute much of anything, with only Danny Etling and Duke Dawson seeing the practice field.
However, one of the more devastating blows to the 2018 rookie class was linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley.
Coming out of Purdue, Bentley was a fifth round pick and looked to be on the rise after a stellar preseason. As an inside linebacker, he was tasked with taking on covering responsibilities in the open field and handled it extremely well. New England always seems to lack linebackers who can effectively cover running backs, but Bentley was fantastic in limited action.
He was given an 80.7 grade from Pro Football Focus in the three games he played, which was higher than any other Patriot linebacker by far.
The former Boilermaker had 14 combined tackles and one interception in 2018. The interception came against Detroit, where he perfectly covered tight end Luke Willson and picked off Matthew Stafford. It was textbook coverage against a good tight end, helped by a bad decision by Stafford.
Later on in the Lions game, Bentley made a tackle and came up with a torn biceps. New England later placed him on Injured Reserve, ending his season. It was an ill-timed injury at the time for the Patriots, who were struggling mightily.
Bentley was the lone bright spot for the 1-2 Patriots, as he was progressing quickly for a rookie. At one point, he had the green sticker on his helmet, signalling he was receiving the play calls from Brian Flores. This sticker is usually on Dont’a Hightower’s helmet, so the fact that Bentley had it speaks volumes.
So with this stellar, yet limited, rookie year, what can be expected out of the fifth round pick in 2019? If we’re looking at the past, linebacker has been the one position that New England has seen steady production in terms of draft picks. Dont’a Hightower, Elandon Roberts, Brandon Spikes, and Jerod Mayo are some examples.
There is precedent for rookie linebackers going on to succeed in New England, but does that mean Bentley will? Obviously time will tell, but it seems like he’s trending the correct way.
He was given the play call helmet for the Patriots games against Jacksonville and Detroit, which is a huge deal. He handled his assignments with great aplomb, covering receivers and tackling well. It also helps he has great veterans like Hightower and Kyle Van Noy to help him in his sophomore year.
Ja’Whaun Bentley could breakout in his second year campaign. If his rookie season was any indication, he has the potential to live up to his number 51, previously donned by Jerod Mayo. Those are big shoes to fill, but he seems to have the attitude and talent to pull it off.
It will be interesting to see how the Patriots view Bentley’s development, because Dont’a Hightower is counting for nearly $11 million against the 2019 cap. Elandon Roberts also had an up and down year, which could make him a cut candidate.
If New England does cut either one of these two, it would say a lot about how they see Bentley in the future.