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Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Mock draft: Patriots go defensive

By Mike Reiss
ESPNBoston.com

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.

Harrison Smith
After Notre Dame's Harrison Smith, the safety class of 2012 drops off significantly, which is why Mike Reiss doesn't think Smith will slide past the Patriots.
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:

Big Board Bar
1. Andrew Luck
QB
6-4
234

Analysis: A new era begins in Indianapolis. The Colts have already informed Luck he's their man, which means the draft card will be turned in early.

2. Robert Griffin III
QB
6-2
231

Analysis: Coach Mike Shanahan found out the hard way that it's tough to Band-Aid the quarterback position. Hence the bold trade up to this spot for Griffin.

3. Matt Kalil
OT
6-6
306

Analysis: GM Rick Spielman said it came down to Kalil, cornerback Morris Claiborne and receiver Justin Blackmon, and the choice here is a blindside protector for young quarterback Christian Ponder.

4. Trent Richardson
RB
5-9
228

Analysis: Assuming they aren't sold on quarterback Ryan Tannehill, they get the stud running back to help make life easier on Colt McCoy.

5. Morris Claiborne
CB
5-11
188

Analysis: Some rumblings that perhaps they'd reach up for Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly here, which could happen if the Vikings take Claiborne.

6. Fletcher Cox
DT
6-4
298

Analysis: First-year head coach Jeff Fisher stocked up along the defensive line when he was at Tennessee, and he'll start doing the same in St. Louis.

7. Stephon Gilmore
CB
6-0
190

Analysis: A candidate to trade out, the Jaguars have been linked to receiver Justin Blackmon as well should he be there.

8. Ryan Tannehill
QB
6-4
221

Analysis: Seems like a perfect fit as the Dolphins finally get a quarterback, one who played in college under Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, to build around.

9. Luke Kuechly
ILB
6-3
242

Analysis: Linebackers Jon Beason (Achilles) and Thomas Davis (ACL) are coming back from injury, so Kuechly offers not only insurance, but also the spark to revamp the front seven.

10. Justin Blackmon
WR
6-1
207

Analysis: They focused heavily on defense in free agency, and could do it again with safety Mark Barron, but this scenario gives them a chance to add a top offensive weapon who is unexpectedly available.

11. Riley Reiff
OT
6-6
313

Analysis: Protecting quarterback Matt Cassel better is a top priority and general manager Scott Pioli knows Reiff has been well-schooled by good pal Kirk Ferentz.

12. Chandler Jones
DE
6-5
266

Analysis: Jones wasn't a big part of the pre-draft build-up among analysts, but he has the type of size and potential that Pete Carroll craves. He's also one of the "cleanest" prospects in this year's draft.

13. Michael Floyd
WR
6-3
220

Analysis: If not offensive line help, they go the receiver route to help quarterback Kevin Kolb with another explosive weapon opposite Larry Fitzgerald.

14. Mark Barron
S
6-1
213

Analysis: One of the safer picks in the draft, he should start on Day 1 and be an immediate difference-maker. If the Patriots are thinking of a trade-up, the thought here is that he would be the target.

15. Michael Brockers
DT
6-5
322

Analysis: They could use some more beef in the middle, and had both Brockers and Dontari Poe in for a pre-draft visit.

16. Melvin Ingram
DE
6-2
264

Analysis: They'd like to address their pass rush, and noted that seven of their top eight outside linebackers were defensive ends in college. Ingram is viewed by many as one of the best.

17. David DeCastro
OG
6-5
316

Analysis: One of the safest picks in the first round, he should step in as a Day 1 starter and provide better protection for quarterback Andy Dalton.

18. Quinton Coples
DE
6-6
284

Analysis: Considered a boom-or-bust type of prospect, Coples could be off the board well before this, or potentially slide even further. Chargers GM A.J. Smith isn't afraid of risks.

19. Nick Perry
DE
6-3
271

Analysis: The Bears have Julius Peppers on one side and now add Perry, who defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli reportedly took a trip to work out, on the other.

20. Dre Kirkpatrick
CB
6-2
185

Analysis: With top corner Cortland Finnegan departing in free agency to the Rams, the Titans fill the void early.

21. Courtney Upshaw
DE
6-2
272

Analysis: Upshaw has some scheme versatility, with the ability to fit a few different ways, but his primary contributions coming as a pass rusher.

22. Cordy Glenn
OT
6-6
345

Analysis: The first pick was the running back to make life easier on Colt McCoy, and now some better protection for him.

23. Whitney Mercilus
DE
6-4
261

Analysis: The Lions already have one of the most impressive defensive lines in the NFL, and now they add another piece behind veteran Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril (franchise tag).

24. Dont'a Hightower
ILB
6-2
265

Analysis: A defense that looked like it was aging late last season gets a shot in the arm with a versatile defender who coordinator Dick LeBeau should have no problem finding a way to utilize.

25. Dontari Poe
DT
6-4
346

Analysis: After a stellar combine workout, Poe was all the rage among analysts, but his stock seems to have cooled since. He slides all the way to the Broncos, who are looking for more beef up front.

26. Stephen Hill
WR
6-4
215

Analysis: A speed option opposite Andre Johnson adds to the explosiveness of an already lethal Texans attack.

27. Harrison Smith
S
6-2
213

Analysis: An edge rusher like Shea McClellin could fit here, but Smith is more of a sure thing and the Ravens could pounce if the team decides to wait.

28. Shea McClellin
OLB
6-3
260

Analysis: Paired with Clay Matthews, the potential for an explosive pass-rushing tandem generates excitement in Green Bay.

29. Kevin Zeitler
OG
6-4
314

Analysis: With center Matt Birk nearing the end, and guard Ben Grubbs signing with the Saints as a free agent, an immediate starter makes this a solid pick.

30. Coby Fleener
TE
6-6
247

Analysis: They already have Vernon Davis, and by adding Fleener -- who played for second-year 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh at Stanford -- they have a Patriots-like version of Gronkowski and Hernandez.

31. Lavonte David
LB
6-1
233

Analysis: It seems unlikely the Patriots would make both first-round picks, but for a defense that wants to get faster and more athletic, David fits the bill in sub packages.

32. Jerel Worthy
DT
6-2
309

Analysis: The Giants had one of the deepest defensive lines in the NFL last year, coming at opponents in waves. They keep the pipeline going with what they feel is a worthy investment.