Like the defensive line, this position will have a distinctly new but also familiar look in 2021. Dont'a Hightower returns after opting out of 2020 and he'll be reunited with free agent signing Kyle Van Noy after Van Noy spent a productive season in Miami. The duo helped the Patriots win two titles together with their strong leadership and play.
Along with Van Noy, the Patriots aggressively added Matt Judon from the Ravens, a well-balanced 'backer who should make a three-down impact. That trio has the potential to be one of the best linebacker groups in the NFL, but it's the development of the younger players that could determine how high their ceiling can go.
Ja'Whaun Bentley got a ton of experience in 2020, playing more than double the snaps that he played in 2019. That experience should serve him well and he should be an important piece for the defense.
Along the edges, the team will see how third-year Chase Winovich and second-year players Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings develop. Winovich and Uche should be third-down impact players, but how much playing time can they earn with the veterans atop the depth chart is the question. Jennings has shown the most versatility early in his career as he was asked to do a lot in 2020 right out of the gate. Third-round pick Ronnie Perkins should be a factor as well within this group and looked active in minicamp.
Raekwon McMillan was an under-the-radar signing but is an experienced inside linebacker with good range. His unique skillset within the group could help earn him a role on defense.
Tashawn Bower and Terez Hall were 2019 practice squadders who got a chance to play real snaps in 2020. They'll need to use that experience as a catalyst to again earn spots on the 53-man roster.
The team also signed former Patriot Harvey Langi to round out their special teams depth, though Langi played a lot of defense for the Jets over the last two seasons and could be a dark horse in the linebacker rotation. Rookie sixth-rounder Cameron McGrone might have to spend his rookie season recovering from a knee injury suffered last season at Michigan, though he was on the field for OTAs during the offseason.
The top foursome seems clear, but after three seasons of significant draft investment it will be the development of the younger players, and especially their contributions on third down that determines how good this unit can be.