Mark Barron Would Address Patriots’ Most Immediate Draft Need on Defense

Mark Barron Would Address Patriots' Most Immediate Draft Need on DefenseIt's possible the Patriots' most coveted player early in the draft is Alabama safety Mark Barron, who is viewed as the only player at his position with a first-round grade.

The Patriots, meanwhile, don't have anyone who is a dead lock to start alongside Patrick Chung. They signed Steve Gregory to a three-year deal worth up to $8.8 million, which is starting money, but he's still a relative unknown. And the Patriots like Josh Barrett, who has finished the last two seasons on injured reserve. Then there's the question over Devin McCourty's positional whereabouts.

Barron is the focus of the second 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 the Patriots' 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-1, 213-pounder intercepted 12 passes in his collegiate career, including two in 2011. As a senior, Barron notched 66 tackles (42 solo), four tackles for loss, one sack, one fumble recovery and five pass breakups.

Why the Patriots Would Want Him

Barron was considered the leader of the best defense in the country, and if he was good enough for Alabama head coach Nick Saban, there's no doubt he'd be good enough for Saban's close friend, Bill Belichick. Barron flies to the ball in the air, and he's strong in ground pursuit. With Barron and Chung, the Patriots would have two strong leaders at the back end of their secondary.

Why the Patriots Might Stay Away

To echo an earlier point, Gregory is a relative unknown, but the Patriots definitely paid him starting-caliber money. It looks like he'll earn something similar to James Sanders, who was released last season in part because he wasn't going to be the full-time starter. So, would the Patriots pay Gregory that money and then use a first-round pick on a safety?

Barron is also recovering from double sports hernia surgery, so his medical evaluation will be vital in terms of his draft stock. If the Patriots aren't comfortable with that issue, it obviously wouldn't make sense for them to use a first-round pick on Barron.

Potential Impact in 2012

Barron should start right away, and he'd provide a playmaking boost to a secondary that really needed it last season. He may be used on a rotational basis as a rookie, but his impact would be large.

Likelihood Barron Is Available at No. 27

It seems slim, and here's the conundrum: Barron could be a top-15 pick, and it would open some eyes if he slid out of the top 20. If that happened, the medical question would arise, and if numerous teams aren't comfortable with his evaluation, it should be concerning. However, Barron participated last week at Alabama's pro day, so he's making positive strides.

If the Patriots really want Barron, they'd have to consider moving up for him. The Cowboys (No. 14), Eagles (No. 15), Jets (No. 16), Bengals (Nos. 17 and 21), Lions (No. 23) and Broncos (No. 25) would all be logical fits for Barron. The key would be getting through the gauntlet of the Cowboys, Eagles and Jets, and the Patriots would have to then hope the Bengals, Lions and Broncos address more vital needs in order for Barron to slip to No. 27.

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

Sunday: LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers

Tuesday: South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery

Photo via Facebook/Mark Barron

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