This draft is pretty deep at the 3-4 defensive end spot. My two favorite fits with the Patriots are Cameron Jordan and Cameron Heyward. We've gone deep into discussion (kudos to satsunada) about comparing and contrasting those two players, but I'll gladly stick with my diagnosis. Jordan deserves the higher ranked position in the draft. However, I do think that Heyward is being greatly undervalued. He has all the pieces to be the best 3-4 DE in the draft. Players like J.J. Watt (little run defense) and Muhammad Wilkerson (questionable pass rush ability in the NFL) have large holes in their game that drop them in value. Marcell Dareus is just too much of a tweener to even think about trading up. I think that Heyward would be the best pick for the Patriots at around 25th overall (right in front of Baltimore) because I feel like the Patriots can get more value from the 17th pick than Jordan by trading down and adding another mid round pick (ie: Cameron Heyward + Steve Schilling > Cameron Jordan). If Heyward is able to spend a year with Vince Wilfork showing him the ropes, I feel like he can be the best defensive end out of this draft.
Let's look at some additional defensive linemen after the jump!
Corey Liuget, Illinois - Liuget has been flying up the draft boards to the point where he's overvalued. He's better fit for the defensive tackle spot in a 4-3 defense because he lacks the agility to handle the outside as a 3-4 defensive end. He's still a solid prospect, but he's getting overhyped. [1st round]
Adrian Clayborn, Iowa - Clayborn's a one gap kind of defensive end who might not thrive with the Patriots. He's more of a penetrator than a gap plugger. There are a lot of questions surrounding his drop in performance during last season, but he should still be a top pick. [1st round]
Phil Taylor, Baylor - Taylor won't be an elite pass rusher, but he'll be a threat to generate pressure on every play and can stop the run. He possesses surprising agility for his size and is one of my sleepers in the draft. There are some character concerns, though, and that should scare away the Patriots. [1st-2nd round]
Christian Ballard, Iowa - Ballard's the unsung hero in the Iowa defense, often playing Clayborn's shadow. Ballard's a strong player in his own right and could develop into a solid DE. [2nd round]
Allen Bailey, Miami - Bailey is a tweener on the defensive line and may even be asked to shed a few pounds to become an outside elephant linebacker. He's a total project player, but he can project to be an athletic contributor at many positions. [2nd-3rd round]
Jarvis Jenkins, Clemson - Jenkins has wreaked havoc in opposing backfields for a few seasons and seems like the quiet Belichick-type player (another unsung hero of the defense that features a star). He has pretty solid athleticism and could be a helpful player in the Patriots' defense. [3rd round]
The talent and depth in this draft is in the first round. I think that both Cameron Jordan and Cameron Heyward could thrive on the Patriots' defense, but I believe that the Patriots have the ability to take the higher ceiling player in Heyward. Jordan, despite his higher floor, does not have the upside associated with Heyward. Jordan can and will be a success on another team, but I think Heyward is being undervalued as a bottom 1st round pick. Jordan deserves his mid-1st price tag, but Heyward plays like a late-1st and has the upside of a top-10. I'd take that risk. As long as Heyward is able to follow the guidance of team leaders (no reason why he can't), put on 15 pounds, and play with fire every week, he can be a star. Trading down from 17 to the mid-20s to pick up a mid-round pick and take Heyward presents the best value at the defensive end spot in this draft.