There's been a lot of talk leading up to this year's draft about how there are a plethora of potential 3-4 outside linebacker conversions, but that not many actually fit what the Patriots are looking for in those 6'4" or 6'5", 265 lbs guys that can set the edge, drop into coverage, and rush the passer. Those players are extremely rare. And because of this, apparently the Patriots are willing to alter their draft strategy. Wes Bunting of the National Football Post reports:
The more sources I talk with the more I get the feeling that the Patriots will not only be in the market for a rush linebacker in round one, but might be willing to buck the trend and look at a smaller/quicker rush guy, staying away from their more patented bigger build.
For one, I find this significant because it tells us that the Patriots have identified the pass rush as a significant need, and are willing to do what it takes to find a good pass rusher that can actually make a difference.
But what players out of the picture (from a fan's perspective) could now come back into the picture assuming this news is valid?
A look at three "atypical" potential Patriots 3-4 linebackers after the jump!
Right off the bat, two names come to mind. The first is Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller. At 6'2 5/8" and just 246 pounds, Miller is smaller in stature than the prototypical Patriots 3-4 outside linebacker. Because of his lack of size, Miller will likely struggle setting the edge at the next level due to his lack of core strength (although he is good at shedding blocks and making plays in the backfield). He's already good in coverage, and has elite speed (4.42), to go with his deadly pass rush moves. The only problem with Miller is that he's currently projected to go in the first five or ten picks (as high as number two to the Broncos). If the Patriots were to target Miller, they would likely have to move up to get him.
Another player that could fit the bill here is Missouri defensive end/outside linebacker Aldon Smith. Smith actually has great size for the position at 6'4", 263 lbs, but he differs from the prototypical Patriots 3-4 outside linebacker in that he is more of a raw pass rushing prospect who doesn't have any experience dropping into coverage. Drafting Smith would be a move based on potential rather than production (injured in part of 2010, recording 5.5 sacks, after a great junior campaign). Smith wouldn't be the prototypical Patriots pick, but he would certainly be an intriguing one.
A sleeper possibility that comes to mind is Nevada's Dontay Moch. At just 6'1" 248 lbs, Moch has anything but prototypical size for the Patriots 3-4 scheme. But man, does he have some crazy athleticism. He ran a 4.4 flat at the combine and had a 42" vertical jump. He simply makes plays in the backfield, coming up with 8.5 sacks and 22 tackles behind the line of scrimmage as a senior. The major knock on Moch of course, is that he can't stop the run. However, the real issue I see with Moch is his lack of fluidity. Nonetheless, Moch could be an interesting selection in the third round for the Pats.