With so many first-round-caliber pass rushers available in this draft class, the Patriots are in great position to add a boost to their front seven, whether they target a defensive lineman, outside linebacker or both.
They'll almost certainly have a chance to select Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, who would play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
The 6-foot-4, 267-pounder had 12.5 sacks, an FBS-leading 26 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles as a senior. He had 33.5 sacks and 57 tackles for loss in his collegiate career.
Why the Patriots Would Want Him
By now, you've probably heard whispers that the Patriots aren't an elite pass-rushing team, and Kerrigan was one of the most productive pass rushers in the nation during his tenure at Purdue. He ran a 4.67 40-yard dash at the combine — the second fastest time among all defensive ends — and he is consistently praised for his effort and motor. Kerrigan would shift to outside linebacker in New England's 3-4 system.
Why the Patriots Might Stay Away
Bill Belichick has never used a first-round pick on an outside linebacker, and the thinking is he would be even less inclined to draft a converted outside linebacker who will take time to develop into an every-down player. There really isn't much to dislike about Kerrigan's game, so it will be a matter of whether or not he is viewed as a better fit than the other players on the board.
Potential Impact in 2011
It would be unrealistic to expect Kerrigan to transform into a complete outside linebacker in his rookie season, so he would get most of his reps as a situational pass rusher. He would play in a rotation with Jermaine Cunningham, Rob Ninkovich, Tully Banta-Cain and Eric Moore.
What The Locals Are Saying
Kerrigan goes by many names.
Where Can the Patriots Expect to Draft Kerrigan?
He will likely be on the board when they're up at No. 17, but it's unrealistic to expect Kerrigan to fall to Nos. 28 or 33. If the Patriots skip over him with their first selection, they'd have to trade up to get him.
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
Wednesday, April 20: Temple defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson
Friday, April 22: Pittsburgh wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin
Photo via Flickr/AnnArbor.com