The New England Patriots‘ defense should be a contender for the best in the NFL after they performed well below their standards last season.
That’s due in large part to the investments they made in free agency and the draft. Now, the Patriots have sufficient depth at every position, which wasn’t the case in 2020.
Having said that, however, the linebacker position has legitimate question marks. Will Dont’a Hightower, who opted last season, be the same player? Will Kyle Van Noy morph back into the stud he was with the Patriots before his dud last year in Miami? Who’ll fill in behind them?
Given how he’s performed at training camp, Raekwon McMillan has widely been projected as somebody who could plug the holes alongside Hightower and Van Noy.
In a truly devastating turn of events, however, McMillan’s potential breakout campaign ended before the Patriots’ first preseason game. Per NFL Network insiders Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero, McMillan suffered a torn ACL at practice this week and is out for the year.
Raekwon McMillan is out for the season after tearing his ACL at camp.
This is simply a brutal blow for McMillan, who had garnered praise from none other than Bill Belichick earlier this week for the way he’s stepped up as a signal caller for the defense.
The Patriots are lacking in that department behind Hightower and Van Noy — the jury is still out on whether Ja’Whaun Bentley can handle that role — and the backup spot on the roster was seemingly McMillan’s for the taking before the injury.
After all, New England’s remaining options at linebacker, which include Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Chase Winovich, and Ronnie Perkins are either inexperienced or more comfortable rushing opposing quarterbacks than calling out pre-snap adjustments.
Clearly aware of this, the Patriots responded in swift fashion by re-signing Cassh Maluia, the team’s sixth-round pick from a season ago who was ironically cut nine games into his rookie campaign after New England signed McMillan to bolster its struggling LB corps.
Maluia played just 10 defensive snaps and had zero stats to show for it, so the Patriots clearly don’t view him as their saving grace at linebacker. They simply need another body to throw into the rotation at camp, and Maluia’s familiarity with the system made him an easy choice.
The message remains the same, though. Assuming McMillan was going to make the final roster (why else would Belichick applaud his contributions?), the Patriots now have a burning question mark at the linebacker position behind Hightower and Van Noy.