2012 NFL Draft: 5 Defensive Studs New England Patriots Must Target

Justin KeithCorrespondent IFebruary 10, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: 5 Defensive Studs New England Patriots Must Target

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    The defensive struggles of the New England Patriots in 2011-'12 have been well documented.

    Bill Belichick will almost certainly be looking to upgrade at most defensive positions, using the NFL Draft to do so.

    Belichick has been known as a draft guru, but some of his recent struggles in the draft, especially on the defensive side of the ball, have called into question his ability to be a good judge of true talent.

    He has missed on higher draft picks such as Darius Butler, Jonathan Wilhite and Brandon Meriweather but that won't deter him from going after defensive players with his top picks in the 2012 NFL Draft.

    Here are some names Belichick must target to improve his shotty defense.

Dre Kirkpatrick

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    Although Dre Kirkpatrick may be off the board before New England's first pick at 27, the Patriots must keep tabs on a corner that could prove to be one of the best talents of this draft class.

    Kirkpatrick recently got into some trouble, being cited for possession of marijuana, but the charges were ultimately dropped. Belichick has been known to take chances on character-issue players (i.e. Ochocinco, Corey Dillon).

    Kirkpatrick would fill a huge need at cornerback for the Patriots. Since former first-rounder Devin McCourty showed this season, he can not be counted on to shut down top targets from opposing offenses, the Patriots need somebody with that kind of potential.

    Kirpatrick provides that potential.

Mark Barron

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    Another player from Alabama's National Championship team could be a target for the Patriots in the upcoming NFL Draft.

    Mark Barron could bring a physical presence to a defense known for not being overly intimidating.

    Barron is known for his size and physical style of play, which would be a great pairing with New England safety Patrick Chung, who also loves to play physical.

    If the Patriots can snag Barron with one of their two first-round selections, they would be making a great value pick.

Whitney Mercilus

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    Bill Belichick loves versatility.

    Whitney Mercilus could provide that versatility at defensive end/outside linebacker.

    Mercilus had phenomenal stats in his final season with Illinois, posting 16 sacks and forcing nine fumbles. He is known for his high motor and combination of power and speed off the edge.

    Mercilus could also provide some youth to a defensive line that has no talented youth on it. If the Patriots bring back either Mark Anderson or Andre Carter, they could provide valuable mentoring for Mercilus as he tries to become the Patriots new stud defensive lineman.

Nick Perry

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    Perry could follow in the footsteps of former USC linebacker Clay Matthews as the next great rush linebacker in the NFL.

    Perry uses his freak athleticism to rush the passer and quickly get in the backfield, something the New England Patriots haven't had since Willie McGinest.

    Perry can also drop into coverage, another weakness for Patriots linebackers in 2011.

    The addition of Perry to the New England defense could impact it on all levels. His ability to rush the passer would take pressure off a weak secondary.

    If he is still on the board, the Patriots would be foolish to pass on a talent like Perry.

Janoris Jenkins

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    Jenkins is a little bit of a wild card for the Patriots.

    He is considered the top corner in the draft but could slide down farther then the Patriots expect, prompting them to possibly move up to get him.

    Jenkins would prove to be a game changer for the Pats.

    Jenkins is known for playing bigger than his size and being a solid coverage corner. Patriots corners lacked both of these attributes during the 2011 season.

    If Belichick feels as though he can't get an equal value at corner later in the draft, he may be inclined to move up and snag Jenkins to add to his secondary.