With regards to the defensive front seven (the D-line and linebackers) I’m going to look at the prospects from a Patriots perspective, identifying my top players for each position in the Patriots’ defensive system, as not all players are fits. Any notable players that don’t fit I’ll include at the end.
Potential Defensive Linemen
- Marcell Dareus – Alabama
Dareus has experience playing in a 3-4 system at Alabama, at 319 lbs has the size the Pats look for. He’d fit as a DE in the Patriots’ system, but the problem is he’s likely to go in the top 3-5 picks.
- Cameron Jordan – California
Another DE prospect, a little lighter at 287 lbs but very strong and a good penetrator. The Pats need their D-linemen to occupy blocks and stuff the run, so he might have to bulk up. Should be a top half of the 1st round guy, a possibility for the Pats at #17 but won’t last to 28.
- Cameron Heyward – Ohio State
DE in the Patriots’ system. Like Jordan he’s under 300 lbs but he looks like a great 3-4 DE prospect to me. Dominant at the line. Might even last til #28 too.
- Muhammad Wilkerson – Temple
Another DE. Has the size the Pats like (6-4, 315 lbs) and is also athletic and dynamic. Stock has been all over the place but might last to #28 and I’d love that pick.
- J.J. Watt – Wisconsin
Yet another player that projects as a 3-4 DE although he played 4-3 end some at Wisconsin. Had a great combine and his stock has been soaring up. Probably only a possibility at #17 and I’d rather have Jordan or wait til 28 for Wilkerson or Heyward.
- Phil Taylor – Baylor
Athletic nose tackle that looks nothing like the 340 lbs he is on tape. Could even play all 3 spots on the line. One year wonder. 2nd round pick.
- Stephen Paea – Oregon State
Undersized NT, might bulk up or switch to DE. Might even be better suited to the 4-3 but could be a fit. Only 6-1, 303 lbs which is another problem.
- Marvin Austin – North Carolina
Character issues and played 4-3 DT in college, but is over 300 lbs and could switch to 3-4 DE if you think he’s mis-cast as a “me first” kinda guy.
- Christian Ballard – Iowa
A 4-3 DT/DE tweener that could become a 3-4 DE. Only 283 lbs but 6-4 and has had a visit with the Pats.
- Kenrick Ellis – Hampton
Nose tackle who fits the uniform at 6-5, 346 lbs. Played against a lower level of competition and doesn’t have great numbers but how much of that is due to the position?
- Nick Fairley – Auburn could be a top 5 pick, despite concerns about his work ethic. Only fits as a penetrating 4-3 DT though.
- Da’Quan Bowers – Clemson has been plummeting down draft boards due to a knee injury but was considered a top 5 talent. Strictly a 4-3 DE, I think.
- Corey Liuget – Illinois should go mid-late 1st, but is a 4-3 DT.
- Adrian Clayborn – Iowa is another 4-3 DE with injury concerns.
- Von Miller – Texas A&M
All around might be the best defensive player in the draft. It’s him or Patrick Peterson. Prototype edge rusher with great closing speed. Problem? He’ll be a top 3 pick.
- Robert Quinn – North Carolina
Although a 4-3 DE in college, Quinn fits the prototype for a Patriots OLB with his 6-4, 265 lb frame and plays faster than his 4.7 at the combine. Questions about whether he’s strictly a pass rusher not a rounded linebacker. You’d have to be sure you can fit him in, and then trade up to get him.
- Aldon Smith – Missouri
One year of production but huge upside. Had 14.5 sacks in 18 games. A raw talent but could be devastating at OLB, or he could be a bust. I’d take the risk at #17 because I think he’s great.
- Ryan Kerrigan – Purdue
Another 4-3 DE that could play OLB in a 3-4 in the NFL. Incredible motor and great production. Very hard working. Sounds like a Patriot in terms of personality, has the frame to hold up on the edge, but sometimes looks a little stiff when dropping into coverage. A legit shout for #17.
- Akeem Ayers – UCLA
A rounded 3-4 OLB but not elite in any particular area. Is better in coverage than the DE conversion types and has some legitimate pass rush ability. If you miss out on a top guy at #17 I’d see if Ayers slips to #28.
- Jabaal Sheard – Pittsburgh
A 4-3 DE/3-4 OLB tweener that can pressure the passer. Quick off the line but can struggle strength-wise and might not stand up so well against the run.
- Brooks Reed – Arizona
Did well later in the process with good showings at the Senior Bowl and Combine. Fast and athletic but requires some development.
- Justin Houston – Georgia
Pretty stiff in coverage and pursuit otherwise would be a better prospect, much higher on the rankings. I wouldn’t touch him in the top 50.
- Sam Acho – Texas
Intelligent and hard working but somewhat lacking in pass rush ability. If you want to take 2 OLBs he’d be a decent 2nd pick.
- Jeremy Beal – Oklahoma
Another hard worker I wouldn’t mind taking if the elite pass rusher was already taken. Mid-to-late round pick.