The Patriots won't have a chance to land the draft's top natural outside linebacker, Von Miller of Texas A&M, but they'll definitely be able to make a run at UCLA's Akeem Ayers. If Bill Belichick believes he needs to improve the position, Ayers might be his best bet because there appears to be a big drop-off after him.
Ayers can play at both levels at outside linebacker, and that should make him an intriguing prospect in Belichick's eyes.
The 6-foot-3, 254-pounder had four sacks, 10 tackles for loss and two interceptions as a junior in 2010. The previous year, Ayers had three defensive touchdowns, six sacks, four forced fumbles and 14.5 tackles for loss.
Why the Patriots Would Want Him
Ayers wouldn't be the pass-rushing freak that Patriots fans have clamored over, but he's an outside linebacker who can play in both directions, which is more appealing to Belichick. Ayers is a natural 3-4 outside linebacker who is sound in pass drops and pressuring the quarterback, which would make him a candidate to play all three downs.
Why the Patriots Might Stay Away
Belichick hasn't ever used a first-round pick on an outside linebacker, and while Ayers is steady across the board, he might not necessarily stick out in any one area. His play also tailed off in 2010 after a really big 2009 season, but that could be attributed to the amount of talent the Bruins lost on defense.
Potential Impact in 2011
Ayers would compete for playing time with Jermaine Cunningham, Rob Ninkovich and Tully Banta-Cain. Cunningham showed some nice potential once he got into a rhythm as a rookie, and Ninkovich played well above expectations in his second season in New England. Banta-Cain fell off after a good campaign in 2009. With all that said, Belichick will likely work through a rotation to figure who is best suited for each situation.
What The Locals Are Saying
Ayers found himself in the right position in 2009.
Where Can the Patriots Expect to Draft Ayers?
Ayers should definitely still be around when the Patriots pick at No. 17, but they might be over-drafting him at this point. However, with the lack of depth in this outside linebacker class, it would make sense to reach for Ayers because they could count on getting quality players on the offensive and defensive lines at Nos. 28 and 33. But if the Patriots pass on Ayers at No. 17, he could still be on the board when they're up at No. 28. That would be a gamble, though.
Every day through April 28, NESN.com will spotlight one player the Patriots could draft with one of their first three picks.
Friday, April 1: California defensive end Cameron Jordan
Saturday, April 2: North Carolina defensive end/outside linebacker Robert Quinn
Sunday, April 3: Ohio State defensive lineman Cameron Heyward
Monday, April 4: Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones
Tuesday, April 5: Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara
Wednesday, April 6: Alabama running back Mark Ingram
Thursday, April 7: Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo
Friday, April 8: Florida interior lineman Mike Pouncey
Saturday, April 9: Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi
Sunday: April 10: Georgia defensive end/outside linebacker Justin Houston
Monday, April 11: Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers
Tuesday, April 12: Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt
Thursday, April 14: USC tackle Tyron Smith
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