Stephon Gilmore’s Skills in Zone Defense Fit Perfectly for Patriots If He Falls in Draft

Stephon Gilmore's Skills in Zone Defense Fit Perfectly for Patriots If He Falls in DraftFew players have risen up draft boards over the last month as rapidly as South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore. At the start of the process, Gilmore looked like a second-round pick, but now there's talk of him flying into the top 10.

At this point in the process, you can't believe anything with absolute certainty, as teams and player camps leak information for their own best interest. So, while it's very possible Gilmore is long gone before the Patriots make their first selection, he could definitely still be around if he's the third or fourth cornerback taken next week.

Gilmore is the focus of the 20th 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-1, 190-pounder had four interceptions and 46 tackles as a junior in 2011. In three years at South Carolina, Gilmore had eight picks, four forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.

Why the Patriots Would Want Him

Gilmore excelled in South Carolina's zone defense, and he's considered a great leader with a tireless work ethic on the field and in the film room, which gives him the awareness to know his teammates' defensive assignments. Gilmore has good speed and ball skills, and he plays hard in run support and tackles well.

Why the Patriots Might Stay Away

Gilmore isn't great in man coverage, but that shouldn't be a problem because the Patriots don't employ much of that. However, his mechanics will need some work, and he's not a finished product, which should be expected after leaving school early.

Potential Impact in 2012

Gilmore would compete for a starting job, and if he's impressive enough, it could cause the Patriots to move Devin McCourty or Ras-I Dowling to safety. Otherwise, the Patriots would have a solid group with Gilmore, McCourty, Dowling, Kyle Arrington and Sterling Moore.

Likelihood Gilmore Is Available at No. 27

It's looking unlikely, but it's a tricky call. Not long ago, Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick and North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins were considered superior talents, but their stock dropped due to their respective character concerns. Kirkpatrick and Jenkins are also much better in man coverage, so it really comes down to each team's preference. One of those three cornerbacks should still be on the board when the Patriots make their first pick.

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

Saturday: Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones

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 Facebook/Stephon.Gilmore

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