Amid the loss of New England Patriots inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan, head coach Bill Belichick has a potential answer prepared.
Patriots rookie linebacker and recent third-round draft pick Marte Mapu can fill the void left by McMillan after a partial Achilles tear. Mapu already looked poised to challenge McMillan for playing time, per CLNS’ Taylor Kyles.
The former Sacramento State star “was probably going to cut into most of, if not all of” McMillan’s role, Kyles wrote. Patriots linebacker Jahlani Tavai could also see “more responsibility” as “one of the main Mike linebackers” in place of McMillan, Kyles added.
McMillan landed on injured reserve on Thursday, May 25, after he “suffered a partially torn Achilles in practice” according to The Athletic’s Jeff Howe. The former Ohio State star tallied a sack, fumble recovery, and 35 tackles amid 23% of the Patriots’ snap counts in 16 games last season.
“The Patriots’ linebacker depth takes a big hit with the loss,” The Athletic’s Chad Graff wrote. “His initial season in New England, and fourth overall playing in the NFL, had its ups and downs, but he was still a valuable part of the team’s depth at the position.”
“Without McMillan, the Pats only have three off-ball linebackers with much experience at the position — Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jahlani Tavai and Mack Wilson,” Graff added. “Suddenly, this is a spot where the Pats have little depth and can ill afford another injury.”
Anfernee Jennings also could “play off the ball more often as a bigger body with versatility”, Kyles speculated. Jennings tallied 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble, and 27 tackles amid 32% of the defensive snaps in 16 games last season.
Graff doesn’t believe Mapu could fill the void left by McMillan because Mapu mainly played defensive back at Sac State. With the lack of depth at off-ball linebacker, Graff anticipates that the Patriots will look to free agency.
Raekwon McMillan Previously Tore ACL
McMillan sustained his second major injury with the Patriots in less than three years.
He previously tore an ACL during training camp in 2021 and missed the season. A second-round pick by the Miami Dolphins in 2017, McMillan played three seasons in South Beach before a one-year stint with the Las Vegas Raiders in 2020.
Marte Mapu ‘Hits Like a Ton of Bricks’
While Mapu may or may not fill McMillan’s role, the rookie from Midway, Georgia, talks with his pads amid his hard-hitting approach.
“It was unusual,” Senior Bowl director and former Patriots scout Jim Nagy told NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry. “The force he hits with and the impact and the noise it makes when Marte hits people, wait ’til training camp, man. You’re going to be hearing it a bunch.
“I always say some of the best players are the ones you can scout with your ears and not just your eyes. You can scout Marte with your ears,” Nagy added.
In four seasons with the Hornets, Mapu tallied 165 tackles, seven interceptions, 22 pass deflections, a sack, and a forced fumble. He also helped Sac State become one of the top teams in the FCS during the past three years.
Despite not receiving an NFL Combine invite, Mapu made the most of the Senior Bowl as he impressed Nagy, scouts, and coaches alike. Nagy noted that Mapu could excel at linebacker.
“I really think you’re going to want this guy playing in the box because he plays bigger than his size (at) 220, 219. He hits like a ton of bricks. This guy’s snap on contact is just, like, different,” Nagy said per Perry.
“I mean, this guy plays downhill and just buckles people. It’s hard to find. He’s a really unique player,” Nagy added.