New England Patriots: Ja’Whaun Bentley underrated…for now

New England Patriots (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)
New England Patriots (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images) /

The crowd cheered when Ty Johnson was hit by a Bentley. Thankfully it was the Gillette Stadium crowd showing appreciation for New England Patriots LB Ja’Whaun Bentley after crushing the Jets’ running back for a three-yard loss, and not for team owner Robert Kraft behind the wheel of a new toy.

Thankfully Kraft is staying out of trouble, while Bentley is becoming more of a problem for opponents. The burly ‘backer has already set a career best in tackles for a loss with four, which is tied for second on the team. If he stays healthy, Bentley could finish 2021 with a few career highs.

A week before Bentley unbelievably punched the ball out of Cowboys QB Dak Prescott’s hands when he tried to stretch the ball across the goal line for a score.

The fumble was recovered by the New England Patriots for a touchback.

Injuries obstructed Ja’Whaun Bentley’s development. Now in his fourth year, he could become the next memorable New England Patriots linebacker.

Not much was expected out of the fifth round pick from Purdue. projected that Bentley would have a chance to make the end of a roster or practice squad.

But Purdue plays in the Big Ten Conference. That meant Bentley played against Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, etc. Head coach Bill Belichick valued that Bentley played in a physical, tough conference. Since Bentley played well against them, Belichick believed Bentley could play well for the Patriots.

Bentley didn’t just barely making the team. He was in the starting lineup for the 2018 season opener, startling alongside Dont’a Hightower, who Bentley admired while growing up. In that 27-20 win over the Houston Texans, Bentley tied for second on the Patriots with seven tackles, a tackle for a loss and a QB hit.

Two weeks later Bentley logged five total tackles, a pass defended and an interception against the Detroit Lions before suffering a torn biceps late in the game, ending his season.

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Bentley was buried on the depth chart in 2019, getting limited snaps behind Hightower, Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy. The opportunity for more playing time came in 2020, and Bentley stepped up in a major way.

With veterans Collins and Van Noy no longer with the team and Hightower taking the season off due to COVID-19, Bentley was voted a team captain. Bentley proved worthy of the title, finishing second on the team in total tackles (91), three tackles for a loss, three QB hits, 1.5 sacks and a pass defended.

For his encore, Bentley is in position to tie a few career highs, if not beat them. But who’s noticing?

Matthew Judon, and J.C. Jackson are stars for the defense. Devin McCourty is a 12-year veteran and prominent leader. Kyle Dugger is an athletic freak with a lot of potential still to tap. And rookie Christian Barmore is quickly becoming a disruptive force.

So no one is talking about Bentley (go check how much ink he’s getting for yourself), which makes him underrated. But maybe in the coming weeks he gets more attention. Carolina, Cleveland and Tennessee all like to run the ball. Bentley should get plenty of opportunities in these games.

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Bringing Collins back barely affected Bentley’s playing time on defense, it seems. Bentley is averaging 39 defensive snaps since Collins’ return. But Bentley went from 18 special teams snaps in the first three weeks of the season to just two against the Cowboys.

As for Collins, he’s off a season high 14 special teams snaps against the Chargers, with seven on defense. Bentley was on the field for 57 percent of the defensive snaps (34).

That would be more than enough chances for Bentley to line up ball carriers for satisfying collisions. Looking both ways won’t save them.