2018 Patriots positional snapshot: A memorable season for Patriots’ linebacking corps

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(Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

With the Patriots’ 2018 season done, we’re going to take a look back at the team by position, and provide a few thoughts as to what they might need at that spot moving forward. So far, we’ve put the offense under the microscope, as well as the special teamers. Our defensive snapshots kicked off with the defensive line — now, it’s the linebackers.

2018 depth chart: Kyle Van Noy (92 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT), Dont’a Hightower (48 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT), Elandon Roberts (65 tackles, 1 sack), Ju’Whaun Bentley (IR), Christian Sam (IR). (FYI — We included Albert McClellan, Ramon Humber and Brandon King— who are listed on the roster as linebackers — in the special teams’ section.)

Contract status: Van Noy (signed through 2019), Hightower (signed through 2020), Roberts (signed through 2019), Bentley (signed through 2021), Sam (signed through 2021)

[caption id="attachment_424388" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Hightower enjoyed a healthy year. (Adam Richins/BSJ Photo)[/caption]

Overview: For the three veterans, 2018 represented a happy convergence of events. After a disappointing 2017 where he played just five games, Hightower started 15 games for the first time since 2013, and built to a dynamite postseason. Van Noy had the best season of his career, eventually culminating with a terrific run of playoff football. (You could have made a case for either one of them as Super Bowl MVP.) And Roberts sharpened his game to a point where he became the sort of complementary first- and second-down linebacker the New England defense really needed. We praised the work of the run defense in the postseason here — where the Patriots yielded almost 2 yards per carry less in the playoffs than they did in the regular season — but these guys deserve a lot of credit for the success on the ground as well.

Van Noy has evolved to a point where he now deserves to be mentioned alongside LeGarrette Blount and others as a heist of epic proportions on the part of Belichick — in two-plus years since being acquired from the Lions, he’s gone from backup linebacker to vital defensive centerpiece. As for Hightower, near the end of 2018, Hightower confessed that given his injury history, it meant something to him to be able to stay as healthy as he did throughout the year. No telling if he’ll be able to maintain that going forward, but on its own, it was a statement season for the veteran out of Alabama. It’ll be fascinating to watch this group going forward — particularly if Bentley has the potential to be as good as he showed over the preseason and before he landed on season-ending IR. If they can stay healthy, they have a chance to be just as good heading into 2019.

In the early days of the 21st century, the linebackers -- the guys who were really the heart of some of those great Patriots' defenses -- used to play with a distinct swagger and attitude. They were a group of alpha males who called their area of the locker room 'Backerhood. Considering the way they play and carry themselves, for the first time in a long time, it feels like New England has hit on a combination of players at the position who could end up being their spiritual heirs.

[caption id="attachment_461479" align="alignnone" width="1600"] It was a terrific season for Van Noy. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)[/caption]

By the numbers: 1 - The number of players in the NFL in 2018 who had at least 3.5 sacks, two touchdowns and an interception this past season. Van Noy was the only one.

A few thoughts about the position moving forward: