Heading into the NFL draft, Tom E. Curran and Mary Paoletti will look at some of the prospects that could be targets for the Patriots. Today's player: Mark Barron.
Mark Barron, 6-1, 213
The Skinny: A thumping hitter with a knack for coming downhill and supporting the run. Seen as the best safety on the board in a weak safety class. Was the leader of the Crimson Tide secondary, making all the defensive calls for Nick Saban's team which - by the end of their National Championship win - was one of the best college defenses in decades. A two-time captain who's seen as very smart and the owner of a solid personal makeup. In addition to being a pretty good hitter, has excellent body control and can make plays on the ball in the air. A good, long look at how he plays the position is here. Our friend Wes Bunting from National Football Post who we'll be leaning on said of Barron, "From a fit standpoint, he's a smart guy, very good instincts and a good football player. Junior to senior year, he really improved. He did a better job of balancing and being more sound. He's not explosively fast but he's instinctive in coverage and then will help against the deep pass. I don't think he's dynamic enough to be a big time, Pro Bowl ballhawker. But he's a good solid player.
Gotta Have Him: Clearly, the Patriots are in desperate need of a complete safety they can line up next to Patrick Chung and make the back end of the Patriots defense better than occasionally OK. Barron, because of the Bill Belichick-Nick Saban link, will be a prospect the Patriots know inside and out. He's been the quarterback of an NFL-style defense playing at the highest level. He can cover. He can hit. He is smart. He's got the ability and leadership skills to be a long-time fixture.
Earliest I heard was cowboys interested at 14, more than 14 players better than him.
Don't Need Him: He had double-hernia surgery after the season and didn't work out at the NFL Combine. Being that he's the top safety on the board, it's questionable as to whether he'll be on the board at 27 and 31. That means a trade-up is necessary and - if that's the case - how often do you see the Patriots go high for a safety? Right, not often.
Forecast: The Cowboys, Jets, Eagles and Bengals have all been seen as possible landing spots for Barron. This is a player who - aside from the hernia surgery - figures to be a very safe pick. Barron's a player a team can take comfort in knowing he'll be a capable pro. Very little risk. The need is there for New England. The talent and dependability of Barron is there. But the Patriots may also believe they can find a "good enough" answer somewhere else. I don't agree with that and believe they should move up to get him, especially if that means parting with one of their second-round picks and the 27th. Enough with the chaos at the back. Move up. Get a player. Chances are, if they wait for Barron at 27, he'll be gone. Said Bunting, "As a football player, he's a top 20 guy but there's questions on how athletic he is because of the hernia surgery and the fact he hasn't been able to do all the testing. If you get him late in the first round, that's a great spot. I've heard the Cowboys have interest at 14, if that were to happen, I'd say it's too high."
Patriots Draftability: 9