During the developmental stages of this pre-draft series, Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox appeared to be clumped into an even group of prospects at his position. However, Cox has since emerged as one of the top two defensive tackles in the class, at least from the view of many analysts, which would make him long gone before the Patriots control the draft mic.
But let's leave Cox in the mix. If his suitors in the bottom half of the opening round catch a couple of breaks, Cox could be there for the taking for any team interested in trading up.
Cox is the focus of the eighth 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 the Patriots 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.
The 6-foot-4, 298-pounder had five sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss and 56 tackles last season.
Why the Patriots Would Want Him
Cox could be a monster on the line. He's got a constant motor and plays with explosion and power. He can get to the passer and blow up plays, and he's got the positional versatility to stay on the field in multiple situations.
Why the Patriots Might Stay Away
Because it would be pricy to trade up. They'd probably have to surrender a first-rounder and two second-rounders to move into the top 15, and maybe a first-, second- and fourth-rounder to get into the late teens.
Potential Impact in 2012
Cox would start somewhere, regardless of the defensive front. Even if the Patriots used a four-man line, they could use Cox at left end just to keep him on the field. He'd be a strong fit for New England.
Likelihood Cox Is Available at No. 27
The Panthers (No. 9) and Chiefs (No. 11) look like the earliest landing spots for Cox, but the Cowboys (No. 14) and Eagles (No. 15) could also be interested. Yet, it wouldn't be a huge shock if the Panthers, Chiefs and Cowboys went in another direction. If that's the case, it might — stress "might" — open the possibility of the Patriots making a move into the top 20. It's definitely unlikely that Bill Belichick would make the most significant first-round trade of his Patriots tenure, but if Cox has a top-10 value and slides into a more affordable slot, don't completely rule it out.
Each day in April, NESN.com will spotlight a player the Patriots could take with one of their first-round picks.
Saturday: Penn State defensive lineman Devon Still
Monday: Clemson defensive end Andre Branch