There isn't an overwhelming consensus for the top tackle in the 2011 NFL draft, but the common belief is that USC's Tyron Smith has the most potential, even if it takes him a little while to maximize it.
Since the Patriots have to prepare for life after Matt Light – whether that begins in 2011 or not — Smith and the rest of the draft's top tackles should be on New England's radar.
The 6-foot-5, 310-pounder was USC's starting right tackle in 2009 and 2010, and he was on the All-Pac-10 first team last season.
Why the Patriots Would Want Him
It might actually be a perfect situation for the Patriots if they retain Light on a one- or two-year contract. Smith declared for the draft after his junior season, and he won't turn 21 until December (by comparison, Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was the youngest player in the NFL in 2010, and he turned 21 in November). Plus, Smith's elite athleticism makes him a perfect left tackle candidate, but he didn't play the position in college, so he'll need plenty of time to develop. If the Patriots had the luxury of storing Smith on their bench behind Light and Sebastian Vollmer, they could reap huge rewards in a season or two.
Why the Patriots Might Stay Away
They'd almost certainly have to trade up to land Smith, and if they don't believe they'll retain Light, they should prefer to draft a more finished product to replace the 10-year veteran. Therefore, it wouldn't make any sense to trade up for Smith. There was also a report that surfaced this week concerning Smith's medical re-check that expressed concern over his recovery from his December meniscus surgery. This was surprising news because he worked out so well at his pro day, so take it with a grain of salt, as a team could be bluffing to get him to fall in the draft.
Potential Impact in 2011
Smith could definitely play somewhere in 2011, but that team will have to deal with some real growing pains. If the Patriots drafted him, it would have to be with the future in mind, but that would ultimately be determined by Light's situation.
What The Locals Are Saying
Smith added weight and unloaded some all at the same time.
Where Can the Patriots Expect to Draft Smith?
It seems likely the Cowboys will take Smith at No. 9, but they're in a win-now mode and could opt for a more NFL-ready prospect like Gabe Carimi or Anthony Castonzo. If that's the case and another team also goes that route, the Patriots might want to trade up a few spots to ensure they can land Smith. Otherwise, the chances of him falling to No. 17 are extremely slim.
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
Friday, April 15: Baylor nose tackle Phil Taylor