- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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After making six of their first seven selections on offense in last year's draft, the projection is that the Patriots will lean toward defense in 2012.
The theme could be that the Patriots will view prospects through the lens of their sub defense, which they were in 65 to 70 percent of the snaps. That puts a higher premium on versatile defensive backs, speedy linebackers, and defensive linemen who can rush.
At No. 27, the choice here is Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith, who would address one of the trouble spots for the team last year. He'd likely be a Day 1 starter, in addition to a core special-teamer.
Bill Belichick views the first draft pick as the tone-setter for the rest of the rookie class, and Smith represents a lot of what is important to Belichick -- football is important to him, he's smart, versatile and he has solid skills. In a draft where the influx of underclassmen creates a pool of players with limited bodies of work, Smith has played a lot of football. He also offers insurance in the event Patrick Chung, the team's top safety, leaves as a free agent after the 2012 season.
Another factor to consider is that the safety class drops off considerably after Alabama's Mark Barron and Smith, which could tie in to the team's draft strategy.
While no one would be surprised if the Patriots traded one of their first-rounders, this mock won't have trades.
So the decision was to go off the board at No. 31 with Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David. He is undersized when considering where he might fit in a 3-4 defense, but he's the type of player who could spark the sub defense, creating a faster, more instinctive unit. Belichick personally worked out David on Nebraska's campus, and David has a reputation as a football junkie who lives for the game.
Overall, likely first-rounders who figure to interest the Patriots include Barron, Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones, Louisiana State defensive lineman Michael Brockers, Alabama defensive end/outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw and Boise State outside linebacker Shea McClellin.
Here is this year's projection:
Our first-round mock has the Patriots taking a pair of players on defense.