There's a ton of depth on the defensive line in this draft, so the Patriots don't necessarily have to go after one of the higher-profile names with the 17th pick. Rather, they could take a gamble on a player at a thinner position with their first selection and then get some better value later in the first round.
If they take that approach, they could be eying Temple defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson.
The 6-foot-4, 315-pounder had 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss during his junior season in 2010.
Why the Patriots Would Want Him
Wilkerson is a big player who could be an anchor for the Patriots' defensive line. He projects as a defensive end for the 3-4 and a defensive tackle for the 4-3, so he could play at various positions for the Patriots in their base and sub packages. The Patriots should be looking to address the defensive line with all of the depth in this draft class. Wilkerson's size is intriguing, but he has the athleticism to make him a first-rounder. Wilkerson is only 21, so he's not done improving yet.
Why the Patriots Might Stay Away
Most analysts appear to really like Wilkerson, but some aren't sold and there are reports that indicate Wilkerson might be vastly overrated. Whether that's the truth or part of the pre-draft poker game remains to be seen. Wilkerson is also coming out of the MAC, which doesn't have the best level of competition, so his rookie season might be a huge adjustment.
Potential Impact in 2011
If he's taken in the first round, the Patriots would expect Wilkerson to make a strong push to contend for a starting job at defensive end, and that would put him alongside Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren. At the very least, Wilkerson would join a rotation with Ron Brace, Mike Wright and Marcus Stroud.
What The Locals Are Saying
It's been a long time since a player from Temple has gone in the first round.
Where Can the Patriots Expect to Draft Wilkerson?
Wilkerson will most likely go in the mid- to late-20s, but he could fall to the mid-30s depending on a possible run on quarterbacks late in the first round. The Patriots would have a very good chance to take him at No. 28.
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
Tuesday, April 19: Villanova offensive lineman Benjamin Ijalana
Thursday, April 21: Purdue defensive end/outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan
Photo via Flickr/Jazmyne Anderson