New England Patriots: 5 second-year studs destined to shine in 2021

New England Patriots running back J.J. Taylor Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports
New England Patriots running back J.J. Taylor Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports /
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New England Patriots
New England Patriots Anfernee Jennings (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

4. New England Patriots linebacker Anfernee Jennings ready to make a leap

When it comes to versatile linebackers who can play off the edge, the New England Patriots seem to have plenty of them, especially with the return of Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy returning to Foxboro.

While those two veteran linebackers are reliable defenders in the book of Bill Belichick, one of the young players who will most benefit from their return is second-year linebacker Anfernee Jennings.

The 2020 third-round pick out of Alabama didn’t do much his rookie season, but that will change in 2021 despite the return of Hightower and Van Noy, who are expected to take some snaps from Jennings.

light. Related Story. Dont’a Hightower key to best defense in NFL

In that respect, opportunity could actually decline for the Alabama product, but having a mentor in Hightower actually out there on the field will be more beneficial than playing time for Jennings, who talked about how helpful Hightower was from afar in 2020.

"“We talk all the time,” Jennings said back in October, via  “He kind of watches the game and kind of gives me some feedback on what I should have done or could do better and stuff like that.  Just try to be another tool for me to continue to learn and grow and understand the game.  Still trying to be a sponge and soak it all up and I’m always looking to get better.”"

While taking advice from a player like Hightower helped Jennings during his rookie season, actually seeing him on the field and how he approaches the game as a professional will help Jennings translate his talent into more production on the field when he does get his opportunities.

Given Hightower’s age and injury history, Anfernee Jennings could find himself in a bigger role by mid-season and beyond.  In other words, watch for Jennings to make a huge leap in his second year in the NFL because of who he will be playing behind and learning from on the field.