AFC East: Clay Mathews

On the Clock: New England Patriots

March, 24, 2009
3/24/09
9:30
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Team needs: Outside linebacker, inside linebacker, tackle.

 
  John Pyle/Icon SMI
  If the Patriots are unable to acquire Julius Peppers, USC linebacker Brian Cushing could be an option.

Dream scenario: The Patriots will have the opportunity to acquire contributors at essentially any position they choose. They hold four selections from No. 23 to No. 58, giving them flexibility to go any number of directions from pick to pick.

After addressing cornerback by signing free agents Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs, the one glaring hole -- for now -- is at outside linebacker. The Patriots sent Mike Vrabel, a Pro Bowler two seasons ago, to the Kansas City Chiefs as part of the Matt Cassel deal. Pierre Woods, a third-year pro who wasn't drafted, is next in line for the job.

One of the more significant recent story lines, however, affixes an asterisk to outside linebacker as the Patriots' biggest need. They have been linked to Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers, who would switch to outside linebacker in Bill Belichick's 3-4 defense.

Southern California outside linebackers Clay Matthews or Brian Cushing would be a popular choice if New England doesn't land Peppers.

Plan B: The Patriots really can't go wrong whichever direction they choose. After the 23rd choice, they also own the 34th and 47th picks. They have flexibility to go after any number of positions.

A run-stopping inside linebacker is another focal point. Tedy Bruschi is on the downside of his career. He'll turn 36 before training camp. If the Patriots select an inside linebacker such as Southern California's Rey Maualuga (if he slides to No. 23) or James Laurinaitis, they could end up with the NFL's greatest young tandem. They drafted eventual defensive rookie of the year Jerod Mayo 10th overall last year.

Scouts Inc.'s take: "The Patriots are loaded. They've had a tremendous offseason. Them and Pittsburgh are clearly the best two teams in the NFL right now. They've done a tremendous job of making their weakness, which was their secondary last year, more than formidable. They have these four picks in the top two rounds. They're going to have some luxury items there. They might be able to grab the offensive tackle of the future or a receiver that they're shocked is still there. They've set themselves up extremely well to draft the best guy on their draft board. They don't have to attack any cornerback or one position at all." -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.

Who has final say: Belichick runs the show from top to bottom.

Now on the clock: Minnesota Vikings, March 25.

Previous On the Clock: Atlanta Falcons. The team-by-team series.

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