The New England Patriots’ need for a defensive tackle didn’t go away when they extended Vince Wilfork’s contract.
Bringing back Wilfork, however, should refocus the Patriots’ search to drafting a defensive tackle who can rush the quarterback. The Patriots have the personnel to align their defense in a 3-4 or 4-3, so finding a player who can be a five-technique end and a three-technique tackle would be the perfect fit.
The Patriots have Tommy Kelly, Armond Armstead and Chris Jones at that position now, but none of them are guaranteed to produce next season. Kelly is recovering from a torn ACL, and Armstead hasn’t played in an NFL regular-season game yet. The Patriots haven’t used a first-round pick on a defensive tackle since 2004 when they drafted Wilfork.
Check out which defensive lineman the Patriots could take No. 29 overall next month as NESN.com rolls out its latest mock draft.
1. Houston Texans (2-14): Jadeveon Clowney, pass rusher, South Carolina
It appears NFL teams aren’t as excited about this year’s quarterback crop as the media is. It also seems that the negativity surrounding Clowney has disappeared. Clowney can be a star in Romeo Crennel’s Texans defense.
2. St. Louis Rams from Washington Redskins (3-13): Greg Robinson, offensive tackle, Auburn
The Rams showed glimpses of promise last season while going 7-9, but if they hope to compete with the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West, they must build for the future by drafting the best available players. In this case, that’s Robinson, who can be the next Orlando Pace.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12): Khalil Mack, pass rusher, Buffalo
Head coach Gus Bradley knows to build a team through defense from his time with Pete Carroll and the Seahawks. Mack can play strong-side linebacker or defensive end in Bradley’s 4-3 under defense.
4. Cleveland Browns (4-12): Sammy Watkins, wide receiver, Clemson
The Browns can pick up a quarterback with their later first-round pick. They can give that signal-caller some help by taking Watkins here. Watkins and Josh Gordon would make an intimidating receiver duo.
5. Oakland Raiders (4-12): Mike Evans, wide receiver, Texas A&M
The Raiders missed out on DeSean Jackson in free agency and could use a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Evans doesn’t have elite speed, but his size (6-foot-5, 231 pounds) could make him a game-changer.
6. Atlanta Falcons (4-12): Jake Matthews, offensive tackle, Texas A&M
The Falcons didn’t add an offensive lineman in free agency, and Matt Ryan could use some better protection. Matthews has the potential to be a franchise left tackle.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12): Anthony Barr, pass rusher, UCLA
Some might see Barr as a reach at No. 7 overall, but he has raw upside that can be molded like clay. He’s extremely athletic and can play linebacker or defensive end.
8. Minnesota Vikings (5-10-1): Johnny Manziel, quarterback, Texas A&M
The Vikings shouldn’t be happy going into 2014 with Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder at quarterback. Manziel would be a great fit in an offense with running back Adrian Peterson and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
9. Buffalo Bills (6-10): Eric Ebron, tight end, North Carolina
Scott Chandler and Lee Smith are OK, but Ebron could bring another element to the Bills’ offense as a “move” tight end. Ebron has the potential to be a team’s No. 1 receiving option.
10. Detroit Lions (7-9): Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, safety, Alabama
The Lions signed James Ihedigbo, but that shouldn’t preclude them from drafting a player like Clinton-Dix. He can play either safety position, but his best fit might be as a strong safety who can cover.
11. Tennessee Titans (7-9): Darqueze Dennard, cornerback, Michigan State
The Titans decided not to re-sign Alterraun Verner, and Dennard would make a nice pair with Jason McCourty. Dennard is a physical cornerback who could shine in zone.
12. New York Giants (7-9): Taylor Lewan, offensive tackle, Michigan
The Giants added a boatload of offensive linemen in the offseason, but they still lack a true franchise left tackle. Lewan has some off-the-field concerns, but he has unlimited upside.
13. St. Louis Rams (7-9): Justin Gilbert, cornerback, Oklahoma State
Gilbert can be the perfect replacement for Cortland Finnegan across from Janoris Jenkins. Gilbert is over 6 feet and has prototypical speed.
14. Chicago Bears (8-8): Aaron Donald, defensive tackle, Pittsburgh
After Henry Melton’s departure, the Bears could use another pass-rushing three-technique defensive tackle. Donald could go much higher than No. 14, but teams might be afraid of his lack of elite size. He’s 6-foot-1 and 285 pounds.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8): C.J. Mosley, linebacker, Alabama
The Steelers could use another inside linebacker who can cover, allowing Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds to focus on rushing the passer.
16. Dallas Cowboys (8-8): Kony Ealy, pass rusher, Missouri
Ealy is a slight reach at No. 16, but the Cowboys badly need a pass rusher. Ealy would fit well into the Cowboys’ 4-3 — even with Monte Kiffin running the unit.
17. Baltimore Ravens (8-8): Zack Martin, offensive lineman, Notre Dame
Martin is the next best offensive lineman for a team that needs help protecting quarterback Joe Flacco. Martin can be an upgrade at right tackle over Michael Oher, who left for the Titans.
18. New York Jets (8-8): Odell Beckham, wide receiver, LSU
The Jets got a good deal in free agency when they signed wide receiver Eric Decker, but it’s obvious they’re saving another spot for a top-flight option they can add in the draft.
19. Miami Dolphins (8-8): Louis Nix, defensive tackle, Notre Dame
The Dolphins lost nose tackle Paul Soliai and can add an athletic defender in Nix to take his place. The Dolphins need offensive line help, but they can add a few players later in the draft without any obvious options left on the board in the first round.
20. Arizona Cardinals (10-6): Blake Bortles, quarterback, Central Florida
Bortles would be best served to sit for a few years, and he’d be in the perfect spot to do that with the Cardinals under Carson Palmer. Bortles has been compared to Andrew Luck, who shined under Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians when he was offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts.
21. Green Bay Packers (8-7-1): Calvin Pryor, safely, Louisville
The Packers have an obvious need at safety, and Pryor can be the perfect player. He’s a big-hitter with underrated coverage skills.
22. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6): Brandin Cooks, wide receiver, Oregon State
The Eagles could use another playmaker with DeSean Jackson gone. Cooks is small but speedy and versatile.
23. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5): Kelvin Benjamin, wide receiver, Florida State
The Chiefs appear to be banking on a top receiver being available when they pick in the first round, because they didn’t add a wideout in free agency. Benjamin lacks speed, but he’s big, and he can get open.
24. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5): Dee Ford, pass rusher, Auburn
Ford won’t be asked to defend the run very often during his rookie season, but he’ll still have an impact as a situational pass rusher. The Bengals will need help on the edge after losing Michael Johnson in free agency.
25. San Diego Chargers (9-7): Timmy Jernigan, defensive tackle, Florida State
Jernigan looked his best when he was playing nose tackle for the Seminoles. The Chargers could ask Jernigan to add some weight to play a similar role in San Diego.
26. Cleveland Browns from Indianapolis Colts (4-12): Teddy Bridgewater, quarterback, Louisville
Bridgewater falls far in this mock draft, but it might be tough for the Browns to pass on him here. Bridgewater’s biggest strength is his smarts.
27. New Orleans Saints (11-5): Ryan Shazier, linebacker, Ohio State
Shazier isn’t a classic fit for a 3-4, but he probably could play inside or outside linebacker for the Saints. He’ll be extremely effective in coverage, especially in sub packages.
28. Carolina Panthers (12-4): Marqise Lee, wide receiver, USC
The Panthers basically ran out of wide receivers after they released Steve Smith. Cam Newton would be happy to throw to Lee for years to come.
29. New England Patriots (12-4): Stephon Tuitt, defensive lineman, Notre Dame
I keep coming back to Tuitt, who’ll visit the Patriots on Thursday, because he can rush the passer and play multiple positions. The Patriots would use him at three-technique defensive tackle in the 4-3 and five-technique defensive end in the 3-4.
Tuitt was inconsistent at Notre Dame, but he was playing out of position, and he was dealing with an injury during his junior season. Tuitt is athletic, and he has elite size at 6-foot-5. There are some question marks with Tuitt, but he had enough upside to be worth a first-round pick.
30. San Francisco 49ers (12-4): Kyle Fuller, cornerback, Virginia Tech
The 49ers could use more more help at cornerback, and Fuller is seen as a high upside player with great athleticism.
31. Denver Broncos (13-3): Xavier Su’a-Filo, guard, UCLA
The Broncos let Zane Beadles walk in free agency, and Su’a-Filo could start from Day 1 at left guard.
32. Seattle Seahawks (13-3): Jace Amaro, tight end, Texas Tech
The Seahawks made tight end Zach Miller take a pay cut, so it’s obvious they need help at the position. Amaro isn’t much of a blocker, but he could be a big target for quarterback Russell Wilson in the middle of the field.
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