Each weekday, from now until the week of the draft, we'll take a position-by-position look at the Patriots' draft needs and which players they may be looking at. Today: Outside linebackers
An OK group in which you have to mix in the ability to stand up and drop in coverage and the ability to go after the quarterback from the occasional three-point stance (personal boycott of "hand in the dirt" is underway). There isn't any can't-miss outside linebacker that's a layup for the top 10. Most of the players are projections with flaws either in experience or build.
New England asks for versatility from their outside linebackers and right now, the best guy at the position is Rob Ninkovich. Markell Carter, Jermaine Cunningham, Jeff Tarpinian and Trevor Scott are the others in the mix. The Patriots could really use that edge playmaker and maybe Scott, acquired from the Raiders, can turn into that. Cunningham is edging toward disappointment. The team is encouraged by Carter, though, so he's a player who bears watching. The Patriots have been tire-kicking on some of the edge prospects, though, so this could be an early target area.
TOP OF THE CLASS
Melvin Ingram, 6-1, 264, South Carolina
Could be listed at a variety of positions because he plays all over the place - defensive tackle, defensive end, inside linebacker and outside linebacker. Very athletic with a variety of moves and also a decent ability to set the edge as well. Has very short arms and, at 6-1, is not an ideal height for an edge guy. A top-15 pick at the least.
Andre Branch, 6-4, 259, Clemson
Long, fast, disruptive pass rusher who had 10 sacks in his final year at Clemson. Projects best as an outside linebacker in the pros. His sudden speed and length are going to make him an attractive prospect. He's a late first-round pick.
Courtney Upshaw, 6-2, 272, AlabamaA tremendously strong, high-tempo player who pursues and brings a thud when he hits. Great toughness and a player that will no doubt get a high recommendation from Nick Saban for his on-field demeanor and production. Not a quick, fluid player in coverage and is a little bit of a run-around player. Mid-to-late first round pick.
Whitney Mercilus, 6-4, 254, Illinois
Exploded with a 16-sack season in 2011 after being mostly a bit player for the Illini in his first two seasons. Decided to strike while the iron is hot and enter the draft and the notion he should have stuck around for more finishing is a prevalent one. Still, he's got great size and length and explodes off the ball. A pass rush specialist more than a drop-and-cover outside linebacker. Late-first to early-second round pick.
Shea McClellin, 6-3, 260, Boise State
Good size, technically sound with a ton of want-to. Can play up or down and exhibits the ability to smoothly drop into coverage when necessary. A safe pick except for the fact he didn't play against top competition in college. Second-round pick.
BEST PATRIOTS FITS
McClellin. Seems like the kind of try-hard player with versatility and attitude the Patriots usually have success with as opposed to a guy like Cunningham who - despite his skill - hasn't found a way to get into the mix.
Upshaw. The size and power are very attractive as is his dogged pursuit when plays are run away from him. Difficulty setting the edge and funneling backs inside was a real issue for the Patriots in 2011 and Upshaw is the best of this group at doing that.
Mercilus. Aside from a terrific name, he also is a moldable player given he's just scratching the surface of his talent.