There seems to be two positions of favor for the New England Patriots in mock drafts these days: cornerback and pass rusher. The Patriots opt for the latter in the latest mock draft by ESPN’s Todd McShay.
31. New England Patriots - Lorenzo Carter, OLB, Georgia
Offensive tackle is a possibility for New England, but I think guys like Kolton Miller and Geron Christian are a bit of a reach here. Carter is a versatile LB at 6-5, 250 with 34-inch arms -- he can play standing up and even some right defensive end in a 4-3. He plays his tail off on tape, and the Patriots could use his pass-rushing production. He had an outstanding combine with a 4.50 40 and outstanding jumps (10-foot, 10-inch broad, 36-inch vertical).
Carter is an outside linebacker in Georgia’s 3-4 scheme, so he would likely be on the edge for the Patriots. He also plays on special teams, which is sure to catch the attention of head coach Bill Belichick.
While there’s no question that Carter would fit in the Patriots system, it would seem that he would just be another hybrid player on the edge of the bear front. Carter would be playing the same role as Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin, Eric Lee, and Harvey Langi.
Carter is okay at dropping into coverage, but his forte is rushing the passer and he’s too small for that role in the New England defense. Belichick prefers larger players like Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, and Adam Butler. That said, Carter is roughly the same size as Derek Rivers and shouldn’t be excluded.
I’ve argued that New England doesn’t need another young pass rusher in the rotation (although a veteran would make sense) or another option for their bear-edge role. They need a linebacker that can drop into coverage the most and defensive tackle could be a bigger need than pass rusher in the defensive front with the decision to move on Alan Branch. Carter doesn’t fill either of those needs.
I agree more with the mock drafts that send a cornerback to the Patriots, even if they always seem to give Auburn’s Carlton Davis and Colorado’s Isaiah Oliver. The Patriots need a cornerback to replace the presumably-gone Malcolm Butler far more than they need a pass rusher. I expect New England to add a veteran cornerback in free agency (like, say, Aqib Talib), but I would still place cornerback atop the list of needs.