New England Patriots Draft Needs: Outside Linebacker

Over the next few days I will be considering the biggest draft day needs for the New England Patriots and assessing what players could possibly get drafted to address those needs.  This entry will focus on the outside linebacker position.

One of, if not the biggest need for the Patriots come April 28th is at outside linebacker.  The Patriots’ inability to consistently rush the quarterback and set the edge on run plays leads to defensive breakdowns that often equates to opponents scoring points.  Luckily for the Pats, there is an abundance of 3-4 outside linebackers in the 2011 NFL draft.  Here’s a look at a few guys that could be new additions to the Patriots come 2011:

Name: Ryan Kerrigan

Position: 4-3 DE / 3-4 OLB

School: Purdue

Year: Senior

Size: 6’4”, 255 lbs.

Projected Round: 1st

Analysis: Kerrigan is a pass rushing expert…sounds like a fit in New England to me.  At Purdue, Kerrigan was nicknamed “Superman” because he’s an animal in the weight room and gives 110% all of the time.  Kerrigan isn’t the fastest guy, but his speed is good enough to play in a 3-4.  He is agile enough to stick with running backs and tight ends in coverage while being strong enough to shed offensive lineman in the run game.  Kerrigan is a high character guy that is a student of the game.  I’m looking forward to seeing how Kerrigan moves laterally at the combine.  A good performance in Indy could land him in the top 15 come April.

Name: Aldon Smith

Position: 4-3 DE / 3-4 OLB

School: Missouri

Year: Redshirt Sophomore

Size: 6’5”, 260lbs

Projected Round: 1st

Analysis: Throw on some tape of Aldon Smith playing against Illinois and you’ll realize why this kid is going to be a first round pick.  Smith is a physical specimen.  At 6’5” and a very cut 260 lbs, his burst is similar to a guy that weighs 30 lbs less than him.  It is rare for a guy to come out of college with the ability to use his hands to shed blockers like Smith.  Could add 10-15 lbs and still be as fast and quick.  When you are called a “legend in the making” as a sophomore, you know you’ve done something right.  With only two years of college experience, his immediate production in the NFL may be limited, but his potential looks endless.  Occasionally shifted inside to play defensive tackle and absolutely owned offensive guards.

Name: Akeem Ayers

Position: 4-3 DE/OLB / 3-4 OLB

School: UCLA

Year: Junior

Size: 6’4”, 255 lbs

Projected Round: 1st

Analysis: Ayers is a rare prospect considering that most 3-4 OLBs in the draft played defensive end in college.  Ayers played strong side outside linebacker for the Bruins and excelled.  Ayers finished third in voting for the Butkus Award (nation’s top linebacker).  Ayers finished his career with 177 tackles, 11 sacks, and 6 interceptions.  Ayers biggest strength is his ability to play in space.  At 255 lbs, he has the feet of a running back with the size of a defensive end.  Ayers is a good pass rusher, but not great.  Adding 10-15 lbs could assist in his ability to shed offensive lineman.  Has shown the ability to play in both a two and three point stance.  Ayers can flat out hit.

Name: Mark Herzlich

Position: 4-3 OLB / 3-4 OLB

School: Boston College

Year: Senior

Size: 6’4”, 250 lbs

Projected Round: 2-3

Analysis: Mark Herzlich is an inspiring man.  Before being sidelined with cancer, Herzlich was considered by most to be the best outside linebacker in the country and an essential lock as a first round pick.  Millions of dollars lost later, Herzlich fought through cancer and is now looking at being taken early in the NFL draft, but no higher than round two.  Before his battle with cancer, Herzlich was an absolute monster.  It seemed as though he was in on nearly every single play.  Herzlich could rush the passer, play the run, and drop into coverage.  This past season, Herzlich showed glimpses of what made him so special, but looked to be a step slow, understandably so.  I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that no player in the country works harder than Mark Herzlich.  Snagging him in the 2nd or 3rd round could be the steal of the draft for the Pats.

Name: Greg Romeus

Position: 4-3 DE / 3-4 OLB

School: Pittsburgh

Year: Senior

Size: 6’6”, 270 lbs

Projected Round: 4

Analysis: Greg Romeus was an absolute beast when healthy at Pittsburgh, but an ACL tear has him sliding down draft boards.  Romeus will attend the combine simply so team doctors can check out his knee, but reportedly will be ready to work out by early April.  Was the 2009-2010 co-Big East player of the year and was nominated to three All-America teams.  That season Romeus had 43 tackles, 11.5 for loss, and 8 sacks.  When healthy, Romeus size and speed (reportedly 4.7 speed) could lead to him being a good two-down outside linebacker.  Developing some burst back after ACL surgery will be one of the biggest indicators of his draft position.

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