Since the departures of Mike Vrabel, Roosevelt Colvin, Willie McGinest and dare I say…Adalius Thomas, the Patriots haven’t had a respectable outside linebacker that opposing teams need to account for.
After posting double-digit sacks in 2009, Tully-Banta Cain regressed and wasn’t even a full-time starter by the end of the 2010 season.
Second-round pick Jermaine Cunningham showed some flashes, but must develop into a more consistent pass rusher.
With two first-round picks, the Patriots need to select a high-impact pass rusher.
Here are the top prospects available and what they bring to the table.
A top-5 lock, Texas A&M’s Von Miller is the perfect combination of freakish athleticism and incredible production.
At 6-foot-3, 246 pounds, Miller ran a 4.49 forty at his pro day and had a vertical jump of 37 inches at the combine.
He has experience playing from a two-point stance and was a dominant pass rusher, recording 33 career sacks.
However, he isn’t particularly strong at the point of attack as a run defender and is slightly undersized for Belichick’s prototype.
Once thought of as a candidate to go first overall, North Carolina’s Robert Quinn is still a top-10 possibility.
With his 6-foot-4, 265-pound frame and 4.59 speed, Quinn is Belichick’s exact prototype.
But, the former Tarheel is more than a physical freak.
He had a great sophomore season with 11 sacks and 19 tackles for loss, but was suspended for the entire 2010 season.
He is still a top-20 pick and could easily go in the top 10.
Only a redshirt sophomore, Missouri’s Aldon Smith is a prospect with tremendous upside.
In 2009, the 6-foot-4, 263-pounder set a school record with 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss.
After suffering a broken leg, his production suffered in 2010 as he only recorded 5.5 sacks.
He didn’t have an impressive combine performance, recording one of the slower 10-yard splits and a low bench press number (20).
On tape, Smith shows a lot of explosion and good pass-rush moves, but like Miller, he needs to improve his run defense and strength at the point of attack.
If you’re looking for production, no one fits the bill better than Ryan Kerrigan.
The former defensive end could be the next Purdue player like Shaun Phillips and Colvin to transition to the 3-4 OLB spot.
At a shade under 6-foot-4 and 267 pounds, Kerrigan surprised scouts with a 4.67 forty, 31 reps on the bench and a 10-foot-2-inch broad jump.
His intensity and strong work ethic helped him put up big numbers. He finished his career with 33 ½ sacks, 57 tackles for loss and a Big Ten-record 14 forced fumbles.
Some question whether Kerrigan has enough agility and overall athleticism to be an impact pass rusher, but his testing numbers seem to prove he is more than capable.
While he wasn’t a great pass rusher in college, Akeem Ayers can do a little bit of everything.
The former UCLA Bruin has good size at 6-foot-3, 254 pounds, and was adept in pass coverage and stopping the run.
But, he isn’t a dynamic athlete and had a poor combine performance, running a 4.81 forty.
He was able to improve to 4.69 at his pro day, but his lack of elite athleticism may force him to play inside in the 3-4.
Unlike Ayers, Arizona’s Brooks Reed lit up the combine.
He ran an impressive 4.65 forty, including a position-best 1.54 10-yard-split, at 6-foot-3, 263 pounds.
He also showed good strength with 30 reps and had a 30 ½ inch vertical jump.
Reed wasn’t an overly productive pass rusher in college, recording 17 career sacks, but his relentless reminds some of Clay Matthews of the Packers.
I don’t think he should be selected in the first round, however he could be an option in the second round.
My pick: Unless they can move up for Von Miller, the player I’d most like to see in a Patriots uniform would be Quinn. Despite his medical history (benign brain tumor since high school) and year away from football, I think his upside and physical attributes are too good to pass up. He was a great pass rusher and a solid run defender at North Carolina and would seem to be a great candidate to play 3-4 OLB. If Quinn is unavailable, I would give Smith a look because of his length and room to grow.