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Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Beyond the 1st round: Outside linebacker

By Mike Reiss

(Each day this week, ESPNBoston.com will highlight one position that the Patriots are projected to target in the NFL draft and highlight one prospect in rounds 2-7 who might fit. With so much attention placed on the first round in mock drafts, "Beyond the first round" focuses on lesser-publicized options beyond the first 32 picks.)

Second round: Jabaal Sheard (Pittsburgh)
It wouldn't be a surprise if he slips into the back end of the first round, simply because of the number of 3-4 teams looking for rush linebackers. He is 6-foot-3 and 264 pounds, was a team captain, and showed toughness in playing through injuries. Teams will have to be comfortable from an off-field perspective (he was charged with aggravated assault in July of 2010).

Third round: Greg Romeus (Pittsburgh)
At 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds, he has prototypical size for a 3-4 outside linebacker and had solid production, although durability concerns figure to impact his draft stock (back and knee injuries). Teams with extra picks could view him similarly to how the Patriots did with receiver Brandon Tate in 2009, taking a bit of a chance by drafting him with the next year's season in mind.

Fourth round: Cliff Matthews (South Carolina)
A team captain, the 6-foot-3, 257-pound Matthews has the type of long arms that teams seeking 3-4 outside linebackers generally like. The Pro Football Weekly draft preview notes he is "tough, intense and competitive -- motor is always cranked up full tilt" but that his lean, narrow build requires more time in the weight room.

Fifth round: Ugo Chinasa (Oklahoma State)
At 6-foot-5 and 264 pounds, Chinasa has the type of size and arm length that NFL scouts seek in a 3-4 outside linebacker projection. Also, making that projection is a bit easier in the sense that Chinasa did spend some time in a two-point stance. The Pro Football Weekly draft preview described him as "hard-working, dependable and assignment sound."

Sixth round: Mark Herzlich (Boston College)
Herzlich's return from cancer has inspired many. His 11 career interceptions reflect his playmaking ability, and while he didn't put up the fastest times in the 40-yard dash, that doesn't account for his football instincts. Herzlich had a rod inserted into his left leg, and the Pro Football Weekly draft preview notes, "Medical evaluations will knock him off many draft boards ... the team that takes a chance could land a Mike Vrabel-type 3-4 outside 'backer."

Seventh round: Pierre Allen (Nebraska)
A team captain who is married with a son, Allen (6-3, 273) played defensive end at Nebraska and would be making the transition to playing more in a two-point stance in the Patriots' 3-4 system. There is plenty of tape to dissect, as he was a three-year starter.

(Round projections aided by Pro Football Weekly draft value chart and Pro Football Weekly draft preview.)