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.
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