The Patriots hold four of the top 53 picks in next month's NFL draft, and according to CBSSports.com, they're likely to draft an undersized defensive end or outside linebacker to address their need for a pass rusher.
Following the September trade which sent Richard Seymour to the Oakland Raiders, the Patriots defense finished 2009 with 31 sacks, tied with the Carolina Panthers for 23rd in the NFL.
This year's draft includes more undersized pass-rushers than prior years. And with the recent successes of undersized defenders like James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and Elvis Dumervil, Bill Belichick could end up targeting a player or two who fits that mold in the draft.
"I think that there were more shorter players, maybe a little less speed than what we've seen, maybe a little more power with good production," Belichick said of this year's draft class. "There weren't a lot of 6-foot-4, 6-foot-5 guys. I'd say it was a much smaller pool of those types of players."
There may be an abundance of undersized defensive players available in the draft, but Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio will scout players who fit the team’s defensive scheme, regardless of size.
"You're looking at a number of different qualities," Caserio said. "You have to be able to look at that player and say, 'Here's what they do well.' And then, once you've identified that, you try and fit it into your system and, 'OK, here's how we're going to use it to maximize his skill set.'"
Some of the players in whom the Patriots have reportedly shown interest are Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap and Michigan defensive end/linebacker Brandon Graham. Regardless of whom they draft, New England has an excellent opportunity to improve its pass rush next month.