Patriots ’20 Questions: Can rookie linebackers replace Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins?

Andy Hart and Ryan Hannable
July 01, 2020 - 10:44 am
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The Patriots are in the midst of the most interesting, important offseason in more than two decades. Tom Brady moved on to Tampa Bay. Bill Belichick remains in place with a veteran roster. There are plenty of questions and even more plentiful opinions regarding the defending AFC East champions. Over the next few weeks WEEI.com will ask and offer up answers to 20 of the most critical questions facing the 2020 Patriots.

Today’s question: How much of an impact do rookies Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings make and will it be enough to replace Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy?

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Hannable: While these players were mid-round picks, they got a ton of hype around the draft for their versatility and fit with the Patriots. But with that being said, it's a very tough ask for these two to replace players like Van Noy and Collins, who were two of the better players on the Patriots defense a year ago.

Just look at Chase Winovich. Sure, he was playing behind these two players, but he was more of a role player and not a huge difference maker. Could that change a few years down the road when they have experience both in the system and NFL? Absolutely. But, right now it's hard to imagine two mid-round picks coming right in and picking up where those two left off.

In terms of replacing their production, it will be up to Winovich and Ja'Whaun Bentley to pick the slack and have bigger roles than they did in 2019.

Hart: While much of the focus this offseason has obviously been on the quarterback and the offense, the loss of front-seven talent on defense is a massive underlying storyline. Collins was seen as a potential Defensive Player of the Year candidate early last fall. Van Noy has been one of the most productive, versatile defenders for the Patriots for the last couple years. They played more snaps than any others on the front and put up production. They helped coin and key the Boogeymen defense that led the team to success last season. That’s gone and it’s almost impossible to think Uche and Jennings can pick up even a significant portion of the slack.

Uche barely started until his final season at Michigan. He’s more of a pure pass rusher than a well-rounded, plug-and-play option. Jennings is more of an option against the run and the pass, but he’s also a mid-round pick.

Will the two young linebackers be good down the road? Maybe. Will they contribute in 2020? They may have to. Will they be good enough to keep the No. 1 defense chugging along and help us forget that Collins/Van Noy departed? Doubtful.

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