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Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Patriots on the clock: Rang chimes in


Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

NFLDraftScout.com senior analyst Rob Rang has taken the time for us to break down how the first round may unfold for AFC East. Next up are the New England Patriots with the 23rd choice.

I provided Rang three needs. He projected the best-available candidates when the Patriots are scheduled to make their initial pick.

The Patriots are looking at cornerbacks and linebackers. I also added running back as a possibility. Keep in mind that when injury-prone starter Laurence Maroney was healthy last summer, they signed free agent LaMont Jordan.

Here is Rang's take:

The Patriots struck gold last year with Jerod Mayo and it would surprise no one if they elected to take advantage of this year's strong crop of outside linebackers. There are numerous players to choose from. USC's Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews Jr. are two that make sense due to their versatility. Cushing is the better player now, but there are some who feel Matthews, a former walk-on, will be a better player than either Cushing or Rey Maualuga in a few years. Former defensive ends Aaron Maybin (Penn State) and Larry English (Northern Illinois) each is athletic enough to play back in space. Bill Belichick's trust of former disciple Al Groh could lead him toward Virginia outside linebacker Clint Sintim. Sintim played outside linebacker in the Cavaliers' 3-4 alignment and, therefore, might be all the more ready to make an immediate impact.

The pickings aren't as great at cornerback as outside linebacker. Many of the top corners lack the size preferred for the position. Illinois' Vontae Davis is a notable exception, but is expected to get a late boost up the board with a strong workout and likely will be off the board. Vanderbilt's D.J. Moore and Wake Forest's Alphonso Smith are each dynamic playmakers, but may be too short for New England's taste.

Considering their willingness to spread the ball around a stable of backs, the Patriots may appear unlikely to take a running back in the first round. However, with underclassmen Chris Wells (Ohio State), Knowshon Moreno (Georgia) and Pittsburgh's LeSean McCoy (Pittsburgh) all capable of making an immediate impact, the Patriots would be wise to consider them. At least one will almost surely be available at No. 23.