One of the Patriots' greatest needs in the draft is at safety, though the 2012 class only features one player with a legitimate first-round grade. Therefore, if the Patriots miss out on that player, Alabama's Mark Barron, they might shift their focus elsewhere.
The second safety off the board projects to be Notre Dame's Harrison Smith, who will be there for the taking if the Patriots like him.
Smith is the focus of the 18th 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.
The 6-foot-2, 213-pounder had 90 tackles, 10 pass breakups and no interceptions as a senior. In his four-year career, Smith had 309 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 28 pass breakups and seven interceptions. All seven picks came as a junior.
Why the Patriots Would Want Him
Smith is a playmaker who can get to the ball in the air and levy big hits. He's also a tremendous leader who plays hard and can contribute on special teams. The Patriots have a need at safety, and Smith would provide depth.
Why the Patriots Might Stay Away
The Patriots don't over-draft due to a positional need, and Smith's stock might be higher than it should due a lack of safety depth in the draft. Plus, the Pats paid Steve Gregory starting-caliber money (a three-year deal worth up to $8.8 million), so they won't reach for Smith, who would be more suited to be picked later in the second round.
Smith would be better in the box, where the Patriots have typically used Patrick Chung. Smith also gets lost in coverage and hurts himself by going for the big play instead of the smart play, which has led to penalties and missed tackles.
Potential Impact in 2012
Chung and Gregory would still be the most likely candidates to start, so Smith would compete for playing time with Josh Barrett and Sergio Brown, among others.
Likelihood Smith Is Available at No. 27
There's almost a 100 percent chance. The Patriots and Ravens (No. 29) might be the only two teams that could take Smith in the first round. If the Patriots want him, they can get him.
Each day in April, NESN.com will spotlight a player the Patriots could take with one of their first-round picks.
Thursday: Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright
Photo via Facebook/Fans Of Harrison Smith