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2012 NFL Draft: Previewing the Outside Linebackers

We'll also spend time looking at the defensive side of the ball. The Patriots are entering the season with Rob Ninkovich at outside linebacker, followed by a bunch of question marks in Trevor Scott, Markell Carter, and Jermaine Cunningham. I wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots double-dipped at the position and brought in a top draft pick and a late-round flier to develop on the practice squad (a la Markell Carter). Here are the top OLB prospects:

1. Quinton Coples, UNC

2. Melvin Ingram, USCarolina

3. Courtney Upshaw, Alabama

4. Whitney Mercilus, Illinois

5. Nick Perry, USCalifornia

Mentions: Andre Branch, Clemson; Shea McClellin, Boise State; Chandler Jones, Syracuse; Vinny Curry, Marshall; Bruce Irvin, WVU; Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma; Josh Kaddu, Oregon; Kyle Wilber, Wake Forest; Demario Davis, Arkansas State; Keenan Robinson, Texas

These players should be gone in the first two rounds as teams try to find an elite pass rusher to fit into their defense. While some are definitely better fits for 4-3 defenses (Coples), there are plenty of athletic players with potential to star in the 3-4 or hybrid defense.

If the Patriots spend an early pick, it will have to be on a player with three or four down potential- and I feel like there may be a surprising number of possibilities in this year's draft.

Which player intrigues you? Who would you want the Patriots to draft?