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2017 NFL mock draft round-up: Patriots to take pass rusher, linebacker, or tight end

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The Patriots aren’t given much versatility in the first round.

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The most popular player that draftniks have going to the New England Patriots is Michigan defender Jabrill Peppers. Peppers was an All American safety in 2015, but played a more in-the-box role as a linebacker in 2016, where he was also named All American. Peppers is attending the NFL Combine as a linebacker, which sheds some light on his potential role in the NFL.

The Patriots have looked for a player like Peppers in the past two drafts, with 6’2, 220 pound Mississippi State LB Matthew Wells in the 2015 NFL Draft and 6’2, 210 pound Eastern Illinois LB Kamu Grugier-Hill in the 2016 NFL Draft. Both Wells and KGH were selected in the 6th round and did not make it through their rookie offseason.

But that shows that the Patriots have been interested in filling a smaller-linebacker type that can help cover running backs and tight ends, while not sacrificing anything against the run. Maybe Peppers can be that type of player.

Here is a round-up of mock drafts around the internet.

SB Nation’s Dan Kadar

Auburn EDGE Carl Lawson

Lawson is a player the Patriots could use up front on the line, or move out to linebacker.

The Patriots could use another pass rusher with Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard pending free agents and Rob Ninkovich now 33 years of age.

NBC’s Josh Norris

Vanderbilt LB Zach Cunningham

Cunningham is going to be a draft favorite in the coming months. The Patriots linebackers could look quite different next year, depending on how contracts play out.

The Patriots could use another linebacker on the roster even if Dont’a Hightower returns. Cunningham might be a complete enough player so the Patriots don’t have to rotate Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts.

Pro Football Focus’ Steve Palazzolo

Michigan LB Jabrill Peppers

New England can go a few different ways at the back end of the draft, but they certainly like versatile defensive players, and Peppers can contribute to various roles on the defense. He’s at his best as an extra run defender in the box, where he explodes to ball carriers in the run game, and he’s capable in coverage when taking on tight ends. That’s been safety Patrick Chung’s role the last few years, but he took a step back in 2016. Peppers can step right in to take the reins from Chung as a box safety capable of manning up with opposing tight ends.

Patrick Chung signed a 1-year extension prior to the 2016 season and is under contract for two more years. The Patriots could use 2017 as a transition period to get Peppers incorporated in the defense before taking over full time in 2018.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper

Michigan LB Jabrill Peppers

Peppers is still a bit of a mystery in terms of projection -- teams are doing a lot of homework and trying to figure out how and where he'll fit, but I know a good place to land for a player who can do just about anything but just needs a coaching staff who can be creative and use his instincts. Jim Harbaugh will be doing a lot of selling on Peppers' behalf, and perhaps the Patriots will listen.

ESPN’s Todd McShay

Temple LB Haason Reddick

Look for the Patriots to add a tight end early, perhaps Michigan's Jake Butt or Ole Miss' Evan Engram on Day 2. But given how the board fell, they could get better value by targeting Reddick here. He opened eyes at the Senior Bowl, proving he can thrive as an off-the-line LB. Reddick has a little Tedy Bruschi in him.

Check out our draft profile of Haason Reddick here.

Reddick went to Temple as a defensive back before transitioning to 4-3 pass rusher. He projects to be a stand-up linebacker in the NFL, making his trajectory extremely similar to that of Jamie Collins. His ability to cover and rush make him an interesting prospect.

NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah

Michigan LB Jabrill Peppers

Nobody appreciates versatility quite like the New England Patriots.

NFL.com’s Chad Reuter

UCLA EDGE Takkarist McKinley

Bill Belichick continues to use early-round picks on the defensive line. He'll covet McKinley's versatility as a stand-up or hand-down rusher.

Check out our draft profile of Takkarist McKinley here.

McKinley has a strong motor and is projected to have long arms and good testing numbers.

NFL.com’s Charley Casserly

Tennessee EDGE Derek Barnett

(Projected trade with Cleveland at #12 overall for QB Jimmy Garoppolo) The Patriots are in need of pass rushers.

Alabama TE O.J. Howard

"Trader Bill" might bail out of this spot but the Patriots could lose Martellus Bennett in free agency and Gronk's health has to be a major concern.

Barnett is arguably the second best edge defender in the draft and would be a steal. Howard is a strong fit if the Patriots fail to retain TE Martellus Bennett in free agency, or even as a contingency plan since tight ends take time to adjust to the NFL.

NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks

Miami TE David Njoku

It might be time to find a long-term replacement for Rob Gronkowski after the all-pro tight end finished the season on IR following another back injury.

Njoku is receiving praise as the tight end with the highest ceiling in the draft. He’s an athletic phenom who might rise up the rankings when his times at the combine are announced.

CBS’s Rob Rang

Alabama EDGE Tim Williams

The Patriots are world champions yet again but don't expect Bill Belichick to rest of his laurels for long. With Jamie Collins traded to Cleveland and Dont'a Hightower, Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long each pending free agents, the Patriots will likely be focusing on pass rushers in the 2017 draft. Williams comes with plenty of off-field concerns but his burst, bend and snap anticipation make him one of this year's most lethal edge rushers.

Williams is one of the best pass rushers in the draft, with the ability to drop into coverage, but he comes with off-the-field baggage.

CBS’s Dane Brugler

Alabama EDGE Tim Williams

With his baggage, Williams will like tumble on draft day, which could mean falling right into the laps of the World Champs.

CBS’s Pete Prisco

Michigan LB Jabrill Peppers

Peppers is the perfect Bill Belichick player. He can play linebacker on passing downs and strong safety on others.

CBS’s Will Brinson

Stanford RB Christian McCaffery

This probably ends up being a “trade back” scenario for Bill Belichick, but the McCaffery connection as a guy who can disrupt multiple aspects of the game and pile up yards from scrimmage on handoffs or short passes is too enticing to pass on.

McCaffery is the lone unique selection here and he is an incredibly talented runner that might be undervalued right now. Still, it’s hard to imagine the Patriots taking a running back in the first round.

Yahoo! Sports’ Eric Edholm

Michigan LB Jabrill Peppers

Bill Belichick’s mantra always has been: “Don’t tell me what a guy can’t do; tell me what he can do.” With that in mind, Peppers makes a ton of sense. He might be one of the tougher evaluations in this class when it comes to pinning down his NFL fit, but there’s no doubt Peppers has high-level athleticism with the ability to cover and blitz on defense at the very least.

Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller

Temple LB Haason Reddick

A three-down linebacker who can cover tight ends and track fast running backs like Devonta Freeman? Sign the Patriots up for that.

Haason Reddick had a tremendous Senior Bowl week, and his stock is only climbing as the scouting combine nears. With his speed as a former cornerback and pass-rushing moves as a defensive end at Temple, Reddick brings a unique skill set to the linebacker position.

Playing off the ball alongside Dont'a Hightower and Elandon Roberts, Reddick is an ideal Bill Belichick linebacker given his ability to fit different schemes and assignments on the go.