2012 NFL Draft: 3 Linebackers the New England Patriots Should Target in Round 1

Tony Santorsa@@TonySantorsaSenior Writer IIFebruary 29, 2012

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 26:  Dont'a Hightower #30 of the Alabama Crimson Tide calls the defense against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 26, 2011 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It seems like each and every offseason, we preach over and over again that the New England Patriots need an elite pass-rusher coming off the edge at the outside linebacker position.

Well, it could very well finally happen this season in the 2012 NFL draft. 

With the Patriots playing in the 4-3 for all of last season after playing in the 3-4 for the majority of Bill Belichick's reign in New England, it wouldn't be a surprise if he were to switch back to the 3-4 alignment in 2012, or he could very well play a mix of both, considering the talent on New England's defense is equipped to play both. 

New England enters the 2012 draft with two picks in the first one, the 27th overall and the 31st overall, and many figure that there should be some intriguing linebacker prospects available at the time when they're on the clock.

With that being said, here are three linebackers that New England could target in the round one of the draft. 


Courtney Upshaw, Outside Linebacker, Alabama

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 27: Linebacker Courtney Upshaw of Alabama takes part in a drill during the 2012 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 27, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Many believe that Upshaw would be gone at the time New England's on the clock at 27th overall—but I'm not buying it.

Upshaw has the potential to slip down the big board a bit and fall right into Bill Belichick's lap. 

The Alabama product didn't have the greatest showing at the NFL scouting combine, as the only thing that he choose to participate in was the bench press, where he recorded 22 reps. 

Upshaw is an incredibly versatile linebacker, as he stands in at 6'2" while weighing 272 lbs., and could either play any linebacker position in the 3-4 and could line up as an outside linebacker in the 4-3.

Just solely being versatile and playing under Nick Saban could make Upshaw very appealing to Belichick and the Patriots.


Dont'a Hightower, Linebacker, Alabama

STARKVILLE, MS - NOVEMBER 12:  Linebacker Dont'a Hightower #30 of the Alabama Crimson Tide lines up against the Mississippi State Bulldogs on November 12, 2011 at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Mississippi. Alabama won 24-7. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty
Butch Dill/Getty Images

If you were to ask me who I think the Patriots should target at No. 27, then I would say Alabama's Dont'a Hightower.

Hightower is an incredible athlete with great speed, as he clocked in at 4.68 for the 40-yard dash, and is versatile enough to play in the inside in the 3-4 and just about anywhere in the 4-3. 

My only knock on Hightower is that he struggles in coverage sometimes, but other than that, he's a great prospect that has the potential to be a tackling machine at the NFL level.


Nick Perry, Outside Linebacker / Defensive End, USC

LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 27:  Defensive end Nick Perry #6 of the USC Trojans forces a fumble by quarterback Tommy Rees #13 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to set up USC's touchdown at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 27, 2010 in Los Angeles, C
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Be on the lookout for USC's Nick Perry—he's the type of player that could go as early as in the top 10 or could even fall right into the hands of Bill Belichick. 

Perry's best fit as a defensive end in the 4-3, but many believe that he's athletic enough to play as a stand-up pass-rusher in the 3-4. 

While at the combine, Perry ran a blazing 4.64 40-yard dash time, which is rather impressive for a man that's 271 lbs. 

Perry is an incredible talent that could possibly be a replacement to New England's two free-agent defensive ends, Mark Anderson and Andre Carter. 


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