Tonight, 32 teams will begin the process of deciding their futures and the futures of young men from across the country. Among those 32 teams, the New England Patriots will be making two decisions regarding those futures. Picking at number 27 and again at number 31 in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, the Pats will be looking to shore up a defense that placed 31st overall in the 2011 season and was unable to hold Eli Manning and the Giants off in Super Bowl XLVI.
Unless Bill Belichick continues his tradition of making trades for more picks later, or to stockpile future picks, who are the most likely players to see the Patriots make a run for? If these players are available, don’t be surprised to see them wearing ‘Flying Elvis’ logos on their helmets next season:
1) Shea McClellin, DE, Boise State – If there’s one thing the Patriots need, it’s a pass rusher. They gave up more passing yards than any other team, except for the Packers in 2011. A large part of that was their inability to put pressure on the opposing quarterbacks. He recorded 50 tackles, 30 of which were solo tackles over his 13 games in 2011, had a team leading 7.0 sacks and his 12.5 tackles for a loss placed him second on the Broncos. He was also named first team All-Mountain West. NFL Network Analyst Mike Mayock is high on McClellin saying recently:
“I see Mike Vrabel when I look at Shea McClellin. He’s going to fit somebody’s 3-4 defense at the tail end of the first round and he’s going to be a 10-year starter.”
Given such high praise, good upside and a solid need at the position, it would be surprising if they pass him up, even if they wait until the 31st pick overall to grab him.
2) Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall – A great option for the 27th pick, again due to the Pats’ need for a pass rusher is Vinny Curry. In 2011, Curry managed 77 tackles, of which 44 were unassisted. Add to that his 11 sacks, 7 forced fumbles, 3 blocked kicks and a safety and he was certainly a force to be reckoned with. If he manages to stay on the board long enough, he very well could be trading his Thundering Herd green for some Patriot blue.
3) Nick Perry, DE, USC – Sensing a pattern here? It’s not certain that Perry is going to be available at 27, but if he is, he’s the most likely to be grabbed there out of the three defensive ends listed here. His 2010 season wasn’t great, but he did suffer an ankle injury that year. With full health in 2011, Perry managed 54 tackles, 13 for losses. On top of that, he also deflected 3 passes, forced a pair of fumbles, recovered one fumble and had a PAC-12 leading 9.5 sacks for the season. He was also a finalist for the Hendricks Award, given to the best defensive end in the nation. He’s had visits with Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, with additional teams possibly showing interest, so there’s no guarantee that he’ll make it down this far.
4) Harrison Smith, FS, Notre Dame – In addition to needing a pass rusher, the Patriots also need help in their secondary. Smith is considered the #2 safety on the board and if he’s available at 31, and the Patriots haven’t traded the pick for something, then you’ll likely see him going to the Patriots here. He didn’t have any interceptions in 2011, but he did have 91 total tackles, including 14 against a tough USC offense. He has good instincts and would make for an excellent late round pick up for the Pats.