Benjamin Ijalana’s Position Flexibility Would Secure Patriots’ Uncertain Situation on Offensive Line

The Patriots don't have many holes on their roster, but they'll head into the draft with a laundry list of questions regarding their offensive line because the league's work stoppage has halted their chances to negotiate with Matt Light and Logan Mankins.

One early-round prospect might have the flexibility to help them out in both areas, and for that, the Patriots could be interested in Villanova offensive lineman Benjamin Ijalana.

Key Stats

The 6-foot-4, 317-pounder started all 53 games of his college career. He was the only FCS player on the watch list for the Outland Trophy, which is given to the nation's top lineman.

Why the Patriots Would Want Him

Ijalana played tackle in college, but he doesn't project to any one particular position in the NFL. Since he's coming from the FCS, he'll be raw, but the Patriots could develop him at guard and tackle with both the short term and long term in mind. The Patriots won't know for some time if they'll have Light and/or Mankins in 2011, but Ijalana's position flexibility could prepare them for life without either.

Why the Patriots Might Stay Away

Ijalana was held back in the pre-draft process due to a sports hernia, and he wasn't able to work out at the Senior Bowl, where NFL coaches and scouts wanted to get their first look at him against elite competition. While Ijalana has been on the NFL's radar for at least a year or two, his ceiling is based more on projections than most prospects due to the level of competition in the FCS.

Potential Impact in 2011

Any first- or second-rounder should be expected to contribute right away, but if the Patriots drafted Ijalana, it would be to protect themselves in case Light and/or Mankins depart (or don't show up in Mankins' case). If Light signs elsewhere, Sebastian Vollmer would move to left tackle, and Ijalana would be the favorite to start at right tackle. If Mankins is out of the picture — he could become a free agent, get traded or refuse to sign his franchise tender — Dan Connolly would start at left guard, and Ijalana would compete with Ryan Wendell for the starting job at right guard.

What The Locals Are Saying

Ijalana's high school has a track record for producing NFL superstars.

Where Can the Patriots Expect to Draft Ijalana?

Ijalana should definitely be on the board when the Patriots are up at No. 28, and there is a good chance he'll be there at No. 33, too. He has the potential to go late in the first round, but he's more likely an early- to mid-second-rounder.

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 

Wednesday, April 13: UCLA outside linebacker Akeem Ayers

Thursday, April 14: USC tackle Tyron Smith

Friday, April 15: Baylor nose tackle Phil Taylor

Saturday, April 16: Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod 

Sunday, April 17: Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith 

Monday, April 18: Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure 

Wednesday, April 20: Temple defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson

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