- Field Yates, ESPN Insider
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The Patriots had one representative on the AP’s All-Pro first team this past season: defensive lineman Vince Wilfork.
The Patriots have the key cog in their defense already in place, but a running mate for Wilfork is needed, and while Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick were solid in 2012, the team could also look to upgrade the second defensive tackle spot through the upcoming draft.
Specifically, the team may be looking for a three-down defensive tackle, something that isn’t easy to find these days in the pass-happy NFL.
The answer may have come in free agent Armond Armstead, signed from the CFL in January.
If the Patriots investigate defensive tackles in the early rounds this year, the crop is “deep, deep, deep", according to ESPN’s NFL draft expert Mel Kiper, Jr.
In fact, Utah’s Star Lotuleilei is a player that some have viewed as the best prospect in the entire class, regardless of position. Lotuleilei sits atop Kiper’s defensive tackle rankings, followed by Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson, Florida’s Shariff Floyd, Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins and Georgia’s Jonathan Jenkins.
Richardson and Floyd are both less than 300 pounds, and have the build often associated with quicker, penetrating defensive tackles.
Hankins and Jenkins are each over 335 pounds, and have less of a track record of pass-rush production.
Lotuleilei, at 325 pounds, likely stands above his peers because of his rare combination of size, athleticism and pass-rush ability (5 sacks in 2012).
He’ll be long gone by the time the Patriots select at pick 29, but the team could have an opportunity to pair Wilfork with one of the other defensive tackles who seem to merit first-round consideration.
To see Kiper’s top five by position in its entirety, CLICK HERE (Insider content).