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2020 NFL draft: Patriots add a versatile linebacker in the first mock after the National Championship

Related: Scouting report: Notre Dame TE Cole Kmet

SEC Championship - Georgia v LSU Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The New England Patriots have a long list of players headed for unrestricted free agency, and four of the men whose contracts expire in mid-March are linebackers: starters Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins Sr. are on their way to the open market, as are rotational backup options Elandon Roberts and Shilique Calhoun. While a lot can still change over the next two months, the Patriots might need to add new depth at the position this offseason.

One way to do that without overcommitting financially is to address the linebacker spot in the draft. Even though the Patriots again pick relatively late, they are projected to have plenty of options when they are on the clock 23rd overall on April 23. One of those might be LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson, who has yet to declare for the draft but is expected to do so in the coming days. He also is expected to hear his name called on day one.

And according to the latest mock draft by SB Nation’s Dan Kadar, the Patriots could very well be on the other end when he picks up the phone:

23. New England Patriots: K’Lavon Chaisson OLB/DE, LSU

If the Patriots don’t like the wide receiver options in the first round, they could turn to the defense. Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins are free agents, and the Patriots could lose both. Chaisson would need to be developed, but he’s an effective pass rusher with a good first step.

With Van Noy and Collins in particular being scheduled to hit free agency in March, Chaisson would seems like a perfect fit for New England: a versatile edge player capable of rushing the passer and dropping into coverage, the 20-year-old brings a tremendous athletic profile and enormous but raw upside to the table. The Patriots, therefore, could opt to plug him into either the edge spot held by Van Noy or the move position manned by Collins.

“His skill set epitomizes the schematic versatility coordinators covet in today’s NFL,” The Draft Network’s Drae Harris wrote about Chaisson in December. “He’s an ideal fit as a weak side 4-3 DE in an even front scheme. Has enough power in his hips and hands to play on the strong side in an odd front scheme, while also possessing the rush ability and athleticism to play OLB in an odd front scheme. He can rush or drop from an up or down position.”

Assuming at least one of Van Noy and Collins leaves in free agency, Chaisson projects to be a good replacement option due to his blend of positional versatility and athleticism — one that could potentially make him a day one starter alongside Dont’a Hightower. While it remains to be seen how free agency plays out and whether or not Chaisson performs well during the combine and LSU’s pro day, he looks like a natural fit for New England’s multi-front defense.