Andre Branch Could Be Patriots’ Replacement for Mark Anderson in NFL Draft

Andre Branch Could Be Patriots' Replacement for Mark Anderson in NFL DraftThe offseason chorus line surrounding the Patriots in recent years has often called for more pass rushers.

They actually put together a good group of players last year, especially on short notice after the lockout. But now, the Patriots have to replace Mark Anderson and potentially Andre Carter.

Clemson defensive end Andre Branch is viewed as one of the best edge rushers in the 2012 draft class and is a realistic first-round option for New England.

Branch is the focus of the ninth installment of a 26-day series that will highlight draft prospects who could land with the Patriots at the end of April. Maybe the prospect fits perfectly in the range of their 27th and 31st picks. Maybe he’s intriguing enough for them to make a rare move up the board. Or maybe it’s a player who could be available in the mid-30s, causing the Patriots to, gasp, trade down.

Key Stats
The 6-foot-4, 259-pounder had 10.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss last season.

Why the Patriots Would Want Him
Branch has very good speed, and he’s one of the best edge rushers in the draft. The Patriots need to replace Anderson’s contributions, and even if Carter returns, the team needs quality depth on the edge in case Carter can’t return to his 2011 form.

Why the Patriots Might Stay Away
Aside from the fact that Bill Belichick has never used a first-round pick on Branch’s position, the Clemson product has been very inconsistent. After all, four of his 10.5 sacks came in one game last season, and the episodes of dominance have been rivaled by disappearance.

Potential Impact in 2012
Branch would be a situational pass rusher until he rounds into form as a three-down player. If the Patriots used him as something of a 3-4 outside linebacker, as they did with Anderson after Carter’s injury, Branch would still be a downhill player in charge of attacking the quarterback.

Likelihood Branch Is Available at No. 27
It looks like a good bet. Branch figures to be drafted at the end of the first round or early in the second round.

Each day in April, NESN.com will spotlight a player the Patriots could take with one of their first-round picks.

Sunday: Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox

Tuesday: Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd

Have a question for Jeff Howe? Send it to him via Twitter at @jeffphowe or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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