This is a follow-up article to three of my previous articles called “Super Bowl LI Analysis (A look at the team’s QBs, RBs, and WRs), “Super Bowl LI Analysis (A look at the team’s TEs and OL), and “Super Bowl LI Analysis (A look at the team’s DL). I suggest you all read those articles either before or after you read this article. As Super Bowl 51 approaches, I am going to continue to analyze specific parts of each team. Today, I will be going over the linebacker situation for both of these Super Bowl bound teams.
The Patriots have a solid group of linebackers, which was once one of the teams strongest points this season. Since the Patriots traded away Jamie Collins, the Patriot’s linebacker group has only been mediocre. Collins, who participated and performed well in Super Bowl 49, was trade away to Cleveland at the trade deadline due to his high asking price for a contract extension. Jamie Collins recently signed an extension with the Browns. The Patriots are expected to start Dont’a Hightower and Rob Ninkovich at the outside linebacker spots. Hightower is one of the best linebackers in the league, and he has played for the New England Pats for the entirety of his short career. Hightower won Super Bowl 49 with the team. Ninkovich has also been very loyal to this New England team, as he has played in Boston for eight seasons. Ninkovich was rewarded for the loyalty two the team by finally winning his first Super Bowl just two seasons ago. Ninkovich is an old veteran who provides leadership for this Patriots team, but he is not a weakness. Ninkovich continues to play at a high level, even at his old age. At middle linebacker, the Patriots are expected to start Shea McLellin. McLellin is a subpar middle linebacker who has played both MLB and OLB in his career. McLellin hopes to be a key contributor in stopping Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in Super Bowl 51. McLellin was a former first round pick and was acquired by the New England Patriots last offseason.
The Falcons linebacker core as a group is not as good as the Patriots by no means, but the Falcons have questionably the best OLB in the league. Vic Beasley Jr. has amazed every one this year, going from good to elite in just two seasons since being drafted 7th overall by a disappointing Falcons team. Beasley Jr. had 15.5 sacks this season, which is more than the reigning super bowl MVP Von Miller, and more than J.J. Watt, who was injured for the majority of the season. Beasley Jr. has a rare skill set for a big man, as he is fast. Beasley Jr. was drafted to play as a defensive end, but play outside linebacker this season in order to increase the amount of times he rushes the passer per game. This fantastic season earned Beasley Jr. his first invitation to the pro bowl, which he declined because he is in the Super Bowl. Beasley Jr. was also first-team all-pro for the first time in his career. Along with Beasley Jr., rookies Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell are expected to start for the Falcons. Both of the rookies have held their own out their, but are not elite linebackers by no means. Jones was a second round pick in this years draft, and De’Vondre Campbell was a 4th round selection. Campbell and Jones have both exceeded expectations thus far this season and have promising careers ahead of them. Both of these rookies made the PFWA all-rookie team!