When it comes to college coaches, there is no coach that Bill Belichick trusts more than Alabama legend Nick Saban, his former defensive coordinator when he was the coach for the Cleveland Browns in the early nineties. The Patriots need linebackers, specifically ones that can get after the quarterback, and Nick Saban has one that fits right into the Bill Belichick-mold; under the radar and many consider to be a risk but was very productive in a great conference.
Anfernee Jennings, who stands at 6’2, 252 pounds, was raised in Dadeville, Alabama, attending Dadeville High School from 2011 to 2014. Jennings was a star defensive end for Dadeville. He finished his junior year with 171 tackles and seven sacks, earning All-State Honorable Mention in Alabama. He dominated again as a senior, but this time he doubled his output in the sack department. He finished with 170 tackles, 14 sacks, nine passes defended, and two forced fumbles. He was an absolute force and earned 4-star recruit status as one of the top recruits not only in the state of Alabama but nationally.
Jennings was recruited by Alabama, Arizona State, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisville, Mississippi State, Nebraska, and Vanderbilt. Ultimately Jennings chose to stay home and attend Alabama, a decision that would work out very well for him. Jennings was redshirted as a true freshman which allowed him to transition from true defensive end to outside linebacker, which sounds like an easier transition than it really is. As a redshirt freshman, Jennings played sparingly, but he was able to show the coaching staff his potential. He finished the season with 19 tackles, two tackles for loss, and he also had three quarterback hurries.
As a redshirt sophomore, Jennings emerged as a starter for the Crimson Tide, starting 11 games and finishing the season with 41 total tackles (20 solos), six tackles for loss, one sack, two forced fumbles, two passes defended, and four quarterback hurries. Unfortunately, his season ended in the College Football Playoff Semifinal against Clemson when he suffered a knee injury late in the game. He had suffered a PCL injury, but there was also an issue with a damaged artery that ultimately developed a clot in his leg. Although the injury occurred in January, that didn’t stop Jennings from missing any time the following season.
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In 2018, Jennings didn’t show any ill-effects from the knee injury and blood clot, finishing his redshirt-junior year with 50 total tackles (26 solos), 13 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, one interception, one fumble recovery (returned for a touchdown), 11 passes broken up, and six quarterback hurries. Most guys would take some time to round back into form, but Jennings was right back to his dominant self and he also got another shot at playing in the title game, but he and the Tide got blown out by Clemson. He did finish with four tackles, 3.5 being for a loss and he also broke up a pass. After going through what he went through, it was impressive to see him start 15 games and play from start to finish with no issues.
Jennings entered his senior year as a Sporting News Preseason All-American and he lived up to the hype. Jennings started 13 games and finished with 83 tackles (45 solos), 12.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks, one interception, five passes broken up, eight hurries, and one forced fumble. Jennings was named a semifinalist for the Butkus Award, the award given to the nation’s top linebacker. Jennings was also voted 1st Team All-SEC by the coaches and the media. Although Alabama didn’t finish the way they were used to, they were able to finish strong against Michigan, and once again Jennings stepped, wrapping up his career with a 10 tackle performance.
Jennings plays a physical style on the EDGE and he knows how to use his natural length to his advantage, locking out blockers and using his hands to control the point of attack. He is very strong against the run, which will keep him around the NFL, barring injury, for a long time. His nose for the ball and intelligence will help him overcome some of the shortcomings he has athletically, and the Patriots love this type of player because he is coachable and his flexibility fits nicely into their hybrid style defense.
Patriots fans should expect a tough playmaker that knows how to make plays behind the line of scrimmage and has a serious nose for the ball. Jennings high assisted tackles numbers at Alabama show a linebacker that has a motor that just won’t quit, something that is an absolute must in the NFL, especially at a position as difficult as outside linebacker. Jennings has the experience, he’s excelled in big moments, he overcame adversity, and he is exactly the type of player Bill Belichick likes to have on his roster. Jennings only had a 5th-6th round grade, but his natural fit in New England’s system absolutely makes him worth the pick in the 3rd round.