In the 2013 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots selected an edge rusher from a lesser-known school in the second round that ended up being a fantastic choice.
Jamie Collins came out of Southern Mississippi and was one of the best young players that has come through Foxborough in recent years, being 1/3 of a terrific linebacker trio for the Patriots that helped him win a ring in 2014 and take part in a great season before being traded in 2016. The one thing Collins was most known for was the freakish athleticism he had, and his ability to easily blow up plays. His “freelancing” and willingness to get a big payday was what led to him being sent to Cleveland, and the Patriots were lucky enough to get Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts to play meaningful snaps for a team seemingly devoid of good linebacker talent.
In the 2017 NFL Draft, the Patriots selected an edge rusher from a lesser-known school in the third round that appears to have similar talent. That’s Derek Rivers from Youngstown State.
Rivers is a freak athlete that played the edge in a 3-4 outside linebacker-type position for the Penguins (GREAT team name. Love it.). It’s very similar to what Collins did as a member of the Golden Eagles (another solid name). Their profiles are relatively similar, but it is unclear whether or not Rivers’ story comes out in the same way as Collins’ did (in the playing style and fit sense, not the trading because he was looking for a contract way). Let’s compare them, as well as the other Patriots linebackers in recent years.
The Patriots’ benchmarks for linebackers were found by NESN’s Doug Kyed. You can follow him on twitter here. Blanks were unable to be found, whether due to skipping tests or not attending the combine for measurements.
Rivers hits nearly every mark for a Patriots linebacker, save for being an eighth of an inch off on the hand size and .07 seconds off the short shuttle. When compared to Collins they are almost identical. Collins was a bit weaker and had better explosiveness numbers. Rivers and Collins match up very well here, and the Patriots clearly miss athleticism like that.
Jamie Collins was a 3-4 outside linebacker for Southern Miss, and he often showed how raw he was as a prospect. It was clearly warranted for him to end up as a second round pick, although he was put in a great position to learn. As a member of the Patriots, Collins spent most of his time in the OLB role, but did his best pass-rushing work as an A gap blitzer (highlight clip here). If the team wants Rivers to do that, they have to rely on his speed and strength to blow back interior linemen. I found some clips of him doing that on the outside and up the middle.
Rivers timed faster in the 40 yard dash compared to Collins, but was slower in the 10 yard split, which is more important in a role like this. While it is clear he has the talent to do that, it is unclear whether the Patriots would like to play him there.
The Patriots are one of the most unpredictable teams in the NFL, and the way they use their personnel in mix-and-match forms is impressive. Rivers clearly has the talent to play as a linebacker, and it’s likely that they’ll at least try him there. His true position lies on the edge, but when the season rolls around we will find out where Matt Patricia and co. want to play him.