When the New England Patriots selected Michigan linebacker Cameron McGrone with their fifth-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, many fans quickly researched scouting reports and highlight videos … only to find he tore his ACL that November and would be out for his entire first season in the league.
It was tough to grapple with the logic here. Any pick beyond the first round is only under contract for four years. For a player in McGrone’s situation, the second year is in question too, since it’s still part of the recovery period where he’ll have to test out his surgically-repaired knee for the first time in nearly two years.
Essentially, on the surface (if you’re lucky), you’ll get two solid campaigns out of said player, because it’s not like this was an investment in an all-world first-round talent guaranteed to produce the moment they step on the field.
This was a guy who played in 16 career college games and recorded 52 tackles (11 for a loss), three sacks and one forced fumble.
But the Patriots felt differently about McGrone. After the 2021 NFL Draft, head coach Bill Belichick said the team was prepared to not have him that season. Now, they’re loving what they’re seeing from the 21-year-old, who is expected to play a big role in the team revamping its linebacking corps.
Patriots may not have wasted a draft pick on Cameron McGrone after all
With Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower gone, what the Patriots are hoping to get out of McGrone seems extremely important, so it’s good news that the coaching staff is praising him early on in the offseason.
Belichick, Steve Belichick and Jerod Mayo have had a lot of positive things to say, which suggests they believe McGrone can be a multi-faceted ‘backer with the ability to cover sideline-to-sideline in both the rushing and passing game.
We’re not sure what that says about the statuses of Ja’Whaun Bentley and Josh Uche — two starters on the depth chart he’ll likely be competing with for reps — in addition to backups Anfernee Jennings, Mack Wilson, Ronnie Perkins and Raekown McMillan, but it’s at least a much better feeling that McGrone is expected to contribute rather than be a wasted pick.
It’s undoubtedly a risky reason the Patriots didn’t draft a linebacker in 2022, but it’s hard to disagree with the assessments provided by the three central defensive coaches on New England’s staff. If they like what they see, then it’s worth trusting. For all the flaws the Patriots have had in their recent draft history, they don’t sugarcoat things when guys aren’t meeting expectations.
McGrone’s athleticism and versatility, despite limited college experience, is what drew the Patriots to him, and Belichick usually nails his under-the-radar picks. The same can’t be said for the first and second rounds, so it definitely helps McGrone was a fifth-rounder, because that likely has fans feeling a lot better about his projectability.