Ryan Shazier Among Potential Patriots Cover Linebackers In NFL Draft

Ryan ShazierThe New England Patriots could select a linebacker high in the NFL draft for the fourth time in five years.

The Patriots have had success finding linebackers high in the draft, starting with Jerod Mayo (No. 10 overall) in the 2008 NFL draft. The Patriots drafted Brandon Spikes (No. 62 overall) in 2010, Dont’a Hightower (No. 25 overall) in 2012 and Jamie Collins (No. 52 overall in 2013). Mayo, Hightower and Collins are expected to start in 2014, but the Patriots could add another linebacker, specializing in coverage, in this year’s draft.

There are plenty of smaller, faster linebackers in this year’s draft class, who could immediately contribute, covering tight ends and running backs on third down and in sub packages.

Check out the Patriots’ top options in this year’s draft:

Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
6-foot-1, 237 pounds
Projected round: First

Why he fits: The Buckeyes linebacker is one of the best athletes in the entire draft. Shazier chose not to run the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, then lit up the Ohio State track to the tune of a 4.38-second attempt at the Buckeyes pro day. Bill Belichick knows his head coach, Urban Meyer, well.

Shazier likely would play weak-side linebacker in the Patriots’ 4-3 defense, but he could play strong-side linebacker, as well, and inside or outside in a 3-4. He can cover and rush the passer.

Shazier might not be available at No. 29 overall, but if the Patriots love him, they might be willing to trade up in the draft. Shazier would likely rotate with Hightower and Collins, allowing last year’s rookie to play more defensive end in 2014.

40-yard dash: 4.38 seconds|three-cone drill: 6.91 seconds|20-yard shuttle: 4.21 seconds|vertical jump: 42 inches|broad jump: 10-foot-10

Watch his tape:

Kyle Van Noy, BYU
6-foot-3, 243 pounds
Projected round: Second

Why he fits: Van Noy, like Collins, is a bigger option who can cover and rush the passer. He had 13 sacks in 2012 and just four in 2013 as he dropped into coverage more often.

Van Noy isn’t the athlete that Shazier is, but his pass-rushing ability makes him a more versatile player. He also is one of the better run-defending cover linebackers in the draft.

40-yard dash: 4.71 seconds|three-cone drill: 7.22 seconds|20-yard shuttle: 4.20 seconds|vertical jump: 32.5 inches|broad jump: 9-foot-4

Watch his tape:

Christian Kirksey, Iowa
6-foot-2, 233 pounds
Projected round: Third

Why he fits: Kirksey runs and covers like a safety, despite having the size of a weak-side linebacker. Kirksey likely could add some more bulk without compromising too much of his elite athleticism.

Kirksey also is an accomplished blitzer, who has sideline-to-sideline ability in the run game, excelling at running down offensive players from behind. Kirksey’s speed and acceleration are his biggest assets, as he gets up to full speed quickly and maintains that 4.5 running ability.

40-yard dash: 4.50 seconds|three-cone drill: 7.07 seconds|20-yard shuttle: 4.34 seconds|vertical jump: 36 inches|broad jump: 10-foot-2

Watch his tape:

Jordan Tripp, Montana
6-foot-3, 234 pounds
Projected round: Third

Why he fits: Tripp doesn’t have Shazier and Kirksey’s top-end speed, but his agility and explosion are elite. NEPatriotsDraft.com’s Mike Loyko wrote in his draft guide that Tripp “appeared natural and fluid in coverage” at this year’s Senior Bowl. Tripp played FCS competition at Montana but frequently stood out in games.

40-yard dash: 4.67 seconds|three-cone drill: 6.89 seconds|20-yard shuttle: 3.96 seconds|vertical jump: 37.5 inches|broad jump: 10 feet

Watch his tape:

Kevin Pierre-Louis, Boston College
6-foot-1, 232 pounds
Projected round: Fifth

Why he fits: Pierre-Louis looks small on tape, but he could wind up being one of the steals of the draft. He had an incredible combine workout, and that athleticism flashes in games, too. He’s not just a workout warrior. Pierre-Louis can cover and blitz, and he’s not a liability against the run.

If Pierre-Louis was a couple inches taller and a few pounds heavier, he likely would be a second-round pick. He always stood out, despite playing on some cruddy BC teams.

40-yard dash: 4.51 seconds|three-cone drill: 6.92 seconds|20-yard shuttle: 4.02 seconds|vertical jump: 39 inches|broad jump: 10-foot-8

Watch his tape:

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