Positional review: Linebacker

We take a look at the linebackers as the next position in our 2012 review.

2012 Final Depth Chart: Starters -- Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Dont’a Hightower; Depth-level players -- Tracy White, Mike Rivera, Niko Koutovides

Key Statistics: Mayo: 147 tackles, 4 forced fumbles, 3 sacks, 95.9 percent of snaps played; Spikes: 92 tackles, 5 forced fumbles, 66.2 percent of snaps played; Hightower: 60 tackles, 4 sacks, 51.1 percent of snaps played.

Overview: The All-SEC trio of Mayo, Spikes and Hightower teamed up for a number of big plays during the 2012 season and carries promise into the future. Mayo was Mr. Everything in the linebacking corps, playing a leading role as both a run stuffer and pass defender. He is the leader of the group and a coach on the field for Bill Belichick’s defense. Spikes continued his effective ways against the run in 2012, playing downhill and being a tone setter on defense. He was used frequently in the team’s sub package, but has coverage limitations against the pass, similar to Hightower. Hightower showed very good playing strength as a rookie and the ability to set the edge as an end-of-the-line player. He too saw some time in the sub package, but has room to grow as a pass defender. The Patriots relied most heavily on these three, but the position has a comparable feel to the defensive tackle spot; a player who can contribute on passing downs is needed. In today’s NFL, when many teams rely on pass-happy attacks, those linebackers are growing in terms of value.

2013 Personnel Preview: White, Koutovides and Dane Fletcher (who spent the season on injured reserve) are all free agents, while Jeff Tarpinian was signed to a reserve/future deal off the practice squad. White, Koutovides and Fletcher all bring core special teams value, while Fletcher could be an option to bolster the sub package defense.