With three of the first 33 picks, the Patriots can do whatever they want in the 2011 NFL draft, whether they stay in place, trade back or load up a package to move into the top five. Because of that, the Patriots could essentially draft anyone they want.
Obviously, there are a handful of players who wouldn't be a good fit, like Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley and Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith, a pair of immensely talented players who are suited for the 4-3, not New England's 3-4 scheme.
And then there's LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, who might be the best overall player in the draft class. But it wouldn't make a ton of sense for the Patriots to mortgage their draft to select a cornerback, when they're already pretty good at that position. Could they use a corner? Sure. Do they need to move into the top five to get one? Absolutely not.
With those qualifications in mind, it was easy to drum up a list of players whom the Patriots could draft with one of their first three picks (Nos. 17, 28 and 33), and NESN.com will spotlight one of those players every day until the draft begins April 28.
Let's start things off with California defensive end Cameron Jordan, who fits everything the Patriots need.
The 6-foot-4, 287-pounder had 5.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss and 62 tackles as a senior.
Why the Patriots Would Want Him
Cal has a similar 3-4 system to the Patriots, so Jordan knows all about gap control, setting the edge and eating up offensive linemen. He has already adapted to the philosophy that a defensive end in that type of system needs to sacrifice statistical glory for the good of the linebackers, and that type of maturity will help him progress quickly.
Why the Patriots Might Stay Away
There doesn't appear to be anything noticeably wrong with Jordan's game from a Patriots perspective, but he isn't the most natural pass rusher. If Bill Belichick wants someone who could really attack the quarterback — again, this would go against Belichick's track record, but the point needs to be made — then Jordan might not be the guy.
One other thing: this draft class is deep along the defensive line, so the Patriots can still get a quality player later in the first round or early in the second round. This could lead them to use the 17th pick on a position with less quality depth, such as offensive tackle or outside linebacker.
Potential Impact in 2011
Jordan figures to be a three-down player who could compete for a starting job right away. The Patriots have veterans Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, Mike Wright and Marcus Stroud, and they could still decide to keep Gerard Warren. The Pats also have some young talent with Ron Brace and Myron Pryor. But Jordan could start alongside Wilfork and Ty Warren, as the others provided depth.
What The Locals Are Saying
Jordan says he's got a "15-hour energy packet."
Where Can the Patriots Expect to Draft Jordan?
There is a pretty good possibility that Jordan will still be around at No. 17, but if some other players go earlier than expected — Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara, Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones and Alabama running back Mark Ingram come to mind — teams like the Texans, Rams and Dolphins could be in the market for Jordan's services. If the Patriots really love Jordan, they might want to take the safe approach and trade up a few spots.
Every day through April 28, NESN.com will spotlight one player the Patriots could draft with one of their first three picks.
Saturday, April 2: North Carolina defensive end/outside linebacker Robert Quinn