eople like to say that speed kills and the New England Patriots will be looking to test that theory in 2022.
There is no denying that the NFL has increased in speed in the last ten years. The two fastest 40-yard dash times are from 2017 (John Ross) and 2022 (Kalon Barnes). With Ross being a wide receiver and Barnes being a cornerback, the increase isn’t happening on one side of the ball either.
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The Patriots seem to have taken notice of the trend. Director of player personnel, Matt Groh, met with the media prior to the 2022 NFL Draft and mentioned that the organization will be “looking to get faster everywhere”
“There’s multiple ways to [increase team speed],” Groh added. “We did some of that last year, have worked on doing that here in free agency.”
The acquisitions of DeVante Parker, Mack Wilson, and Jabrill Peppers fall in line with this thinking. Parker is a great deep threat who can take the top off of secondary’s and Peppers is a speedy safety who can also return kicks. He has 117 returns in his career consisting of both punt and kick returns.
A Changed Game
Part of the reason for the need for speed is the fact that the game has changed. Gone are the days of running the ball down an opponent’s throat with a bruising running back. Groh touched upon just how the game has changed over the years.
“It’s a different game than it was 20, 30, 40 years ago, and that player has also changed,” Groh stated. “There are not as many of those big linebackers,” Groh said. “They don’t exist. Colleges want them smaller because they have to be able to adapt to the college game. You can’t just create these guys out of thin air. With all the positions, it’s what the college game provides us. We have to just take what they are going to give us from year to year.”
The Patriots have been linked to linebackers in this year’s draft. One of the more impressive ones being Georgia’s Nakobe Dean. As Groh mentioned, Dean doesn’t look like the old-school linebackers that were seen many years ago. He stands at 5-foot-11 and weighs 229 pounds.
With the stereotypical NFL linebacker changing, the opportunity arises for players to find new life in different positions. While some players might have played different positions in college, Groh mentioned that these players might be better suited to playing linebacker in today’s NFL.
“There’s going to be different players all across the league who are considered linebackers, whether they’re converting from a different position in college — safety to linebacker, what not,” Groh said.
“And that’s certainly one way to get speed on the field, is just using some of these guys differently. Just the caliber of athlete you can get — the size, the speed — these days. You can put these guys all over the place, and that’s certainly one way to increase the overall speed of the defense.”
This could also be another reason that New England decided to bring in Peppers. With the number of safeties the Patriots have on their roster, New England can afford to have more guys in the box. Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, and Devin McCourty all have the ability to play closer to the line of scrimmage.
So Patriots fans should continue to expect to see a fast team in 2022.