A look at three top (1st - 2nd round) prospects at the outside linebacker / defensive end position that the Patriots could target in the 2012 NFL Draft:
Nick Perry, DE, USC | Projection: 10-25
Nick Perry is one of the most dynamic and explosive pass rushers in the entire 2012 NFL Draft. He's got decent instincts, active hands, and can get to the quarterback with the best of them. While he might not think his best fit is at 3-4 OLB, at a minimum, he could be an excellent pass rusher in all sub-packages, and could also play a DeMarcus Ware or Terrell Suggs type of role as an outside backer.
Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise State | Projection: Late 1st - Early 2nd
Shea McClellin is a player that I've been high on long before his recent surge in draft stock. He shows great natural athleticism, and was used in a variety of different ways at Boise State (rushed from a 3-point stance, 2-point stance, inside linebacker, etc.). I actually like him more than some other DE/OLB prospects such as Illinois' Whitney Mercilus.
Andre Branch, DE/OLB, Clemson | Projection: Late 1st - Early 2nd
Andre Branch possesses long arms and the type of height / weight / athleticism that the Patriots like in their outside linebackers. I think he's a little bit more explosive and a better fit for the 3-4 than Whitney Mercilus, as he's shown an ability to cover in the flat when necessary. He's certainly got some work to go - he doesn't have great instincts and needs to improve against the run. Nonetheless, his an intriguing late 1st round guy who can do some things that the Patriots would surely covet.
Other Players to Consider: Courtney Upshaw, Alabama; Melvin Ingram, South Carolina; Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma; Bruce Irvin, West Virginia; Vinny Curry, Marshall; Chandler Jones, Syracuse; Cam Johnson, Virginia