Soon to be stars: Brandon Spikes

Scouts Inc.’s Matt Williamson looks at AFC East players on the verge of a breakout in 2011.

The Patriots’ roster is littered with impressive young players. But Brandon Spikes is the perfect fit as the heavier take-on inside linebacker in Bill Belichick’s 3-4 scheme. Pass coverage -- particularly man coverage against tight ends and swifter running backs -- will probably always be a problem for Spikes, but what Spikes does, he does very well.

This guy stops the run. And he stops the run very well. Spikes is a downhill player who is very quick to react. He does his best work between the tackles and as a fantastic take-on linebacker. He is also the ideal complement to Jerod Mayo, who is more of the athletic free-lancing type. Spikes rarely plays a bad game and is a model of consistency -- even at such a young age (23). Even though coverage is not Spikes’ forte due to limited foot quickness, he does show a strong understanding of zone coverage and is quick to recognize routes.

Spikes did not appear in the last four regular-season games of 2010 due to a suspension for a banned substance, and that is a cause for concern. But this is a very tough player who will play through injury and will set the tone for his teammates. Just like he was as a leader of an excellent Florida Gators defense, Spikes will be extremely productive for one of the NFL’s elite franchises.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.