Out of these five players, I only see Smith, Quinn, and Miller succeeding at OLB in the NFL. Kerrigan and Houston lack the athleticism to be overall 3-4 OLBs and both will play better on the line as a 4-3 defensive end. They have strength games and will do more by overpowering their opposition, as opposed to the agility and finesse needed to play OLB. Out of Smith, Quinn, and Miller, I don't see any as a Patriot-type prospect. Smith and Quinn have two years of college experience and Belichick won't take inexperienced players in the first round. Miller, ignoring the cost of trading up to have a chance of drafting him, struggles against the run and doesn't really fit the Patriots' defensive style. As a result, I'll have to say that the Patriots will pass on an OLB in the first round of the NFL draft.
Let's look at some additional outside linebackers after the jump!
Akeem Ayers, UCLA - Ayers is a borderline first round prospect who has been touted for his versatility. He can cover and he can rush the passer, but he lacks an explosive closing burst and struggles against the run. [1st-2nd round]
Brooks Reed, Arizona - Reed is rocketing up draft boards, but he's extremely overvalued. He lacks the agility to change direction and is more of a straight line player. He's better suited for a 4-3 defense, but he'll be looked at during the end of the first round. [1st-2nd round]
Jabaal Sheard, Pittsburgh - Sheard is a talented player who is rising quickly. He's a mixed bag off the field, but he can rush the passer and set the edge. He's an explosive talent. [1st-2nd round]
Sam Acho, Texas - Acho is the poor man's Sheard. He's able to stop the run and rush the quarterback, but he doesn't get through the line as easily as Sheard. However, Acho has impeccable off the field characteristics and is willing, and able, to learn. [2nd round]
Dontay Moch, Nevada - Moch's the poor man's Von Miller. Moch has unbelievable combine athleticism, but it doesn't translate well to the football field. He's extremely undersized and lacks the strength to be a consistent run stopper and will need free releases to wreak havoc in the NFL. Track star, might not be an all-around OLB, just a third down OLB. [2nd-3rd round]
Chris Carter, Fresno State - Carter is another undersized player (6'1), but he's willing to learn. He's been getting lessons from Willie McGinest this off-season to learn how to drop into coverage. Carter was an extremely impressive pass rusher in college and could be this year's Dane Fletcher-type player. [3rd round]
Greg Romeus, Pittsburgh - Romeus was touted as a first round prospect until he injured himself early in the season and again when he returned at the end of the year. He's dropped because he's an injury concern. If he can stay healthy, he can be a force rushing the passer, but he struggles to hold the edge consistently against the run. [4th round]
Cliff Matthews, South Carolina - Matthews is a hard working player with great intelligence and character, as a two-year team captain. He was productive in college and seems to play faster than his combine numbers. He played OLB as a freshman before moving to defensive end, so he has the athleticism to cover. Dark horse prospect with ideal OLB size. [4th-5th round]
Ugo Chinasa, Oklahoma State - Chinasa has ideal size, speed, and athleticism. He has experience dropping into coverage and has a variety of pass rush moves. He's a very fluid athlete, but he was inconsistent in college so his numbers weren't eye-popping. Another dark horse that I actually like more than Matthews. [4th-5th round]
Ricky Elmore, Arizona - Elmore had a productive college career, but he lacks the athleticism to thrive as an OLB in the NFL. He doesn't have the explosion to be a threat as a defensive end, but he has a great motor so he'll make plays. However, in a fast league, I'm not sure if Elmore will succeed. Team leader and solid fundamentals. [6th round]
If I had to rank the OLBs that I would want the Patriots to take, it would be:
1. Jabaal Sheard
2. Sam Acho
3. Ugo Chinasa
4. Cliff Matthews
5. Chris Carter
So there are definite options outside of the first round for solid OLB prospects. I see the Patriots addressing the line on both sides of the ball in the first round; look for outside linebacker later in the draft. I wouldn't be surprised if Belichick drafted two OLB prospects (ie: Sheard in the 2nd, Chinasa in the 4th) because that's what he does. He takes two players at positions of great need for upgrading and I wouldn't be surprised if OLB was the position that received a double dose this year.