Patriots Could Make Nick Perry Their First Opening-Round Pick From USC Since Willie McGinest

Patriots Could Make Nick Perry Their First Opening-Round Pick From USC Since Willie McGinestIt's an unusually thin year for top-notch prospects from USC, as defensive end Nick Perry might be the Trojans' only first-round pick on the defensive side of the ball in this month's draft.

If Perry slides to the Patriots, they could use a first-round pick on a player from USC for the first time since Willie McGinest in 1994.

Perry is the focus of the 13th 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-3, 271-pounder had 9.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, 54 tackles, three pass deflections, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery as a junior in 2011.

Why the Patriots Would Want Him

They need to replace Mark Anderson, and Perry projects as an instant pass-rushing specialist who could grow into a more complete player with more experience. Perry has great speed and explosion, and he's got a true knack for getting to the quarterback. While he prefers to play defensive end, he could also move to outside linebacker in the 3-4, though that will take an adjustment period. At the very least, he projects to have the versatility to play in multiple front for the Patriots.

Why the Patriots Might Stay Away

Once again, because they don't use first-round picks on edge rushers. Perry has also been inconsistent and needs to add strength before becoming an every-down player. That's a fixable problem, though, providing Perry is dedicated enough.

Potential Impact in 2012

Perry would be a situational pass rusher who would get more reps if the Patriots keep their 4-3 intact. Otherwise, he'd join the rotation among outside linebackers in the 3-4 and play in sub sets on passing downs.

Likelihood Perry Is Available at No. 27

Perry's draft stock has been all over the place. While it's possible he could go in the top half of the first round, it's more likely he'll slide into the late-teens or 20s. He might be a fit for the Seahawks (No. 12), Jets (No. 16), Bengals (Nos. 17 and 21), Chargers (No. 18) or Bears (No. 19). The question there, though, is whether or not teams want to reach for Perry at that point when they could instead get a comparable edge player in the middle of the second round.

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

Thursday: Boston College inside linebacker Luke Kuechly

Saturday: Alabama outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw

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. Photo (AP/Michael Conroy)

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