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Can Courtney Upshaw be the pass rusher that the Patriots spend a 1st round pick on?
The Patriots have needed someone a dominant pass-rusher for most of Bill Belichick’s tenure as head coach.
Whether Belichick is going to stick with the four-man defensive line he used for most of 2011 or is going to revert back to the 3-4 that he is known for, the Patriots must draft a player that can get up field and rush the quarterback.
With two picks in the first round—27th and 31st—the Patriots can either wait for the best available player or break the mold and trade up into the top half of the first round and get the stud they truly need.
Melvin Ingram, OLB/DE, South Carolina.
The ACC standout would be a difference-maker on the Patriots defense, but this would require Belichick to trade up for one of the more coveted pass-rushers in the 2012 draft. Ingram boasts the size and speed to play to play OLB in Belichick’s 3-4, but while Ingram is the most talented pass-rusher of the three, he may also be the biggest risk as he lacks the coverage ability that 3-4 OLBs must have.
Making this move would be a bold one. The upgrade to the front seven would carry over into the secondary, as defensive backs and safeties would be expected to keep their man locked down for a few split seconds less.
Projection: Top 15 pick
Andre Branch, OLB/DE, Clemson.
The 6'4", 259-pound tweener can play OLB in a 3-4, but is strong enough to play DE in a 4-3. While at Clemson, Branch showed the versatility that Belichick loves and could be a three-down defender as long as he continues to develop. As an OLB, Branch will need to improve his coverage skills, and when playing with a hand on the ground, Branch will need to prove that he can hold up on run plays in the NFL.
Projection: 1st round
Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama.
Between a slow 40 time and increased size, Upshaw is more of a 4-3 end than Branch. Although, after playing in Nick Saban’s 3-4 defense at Alabama, Upshaw has shown the ability to play the OLB position. Scouts do question Upshaw's speed, though he ran a 4.79 40-yard dash at the combine. As great as the SEC is, there is still a major jump from playing against the LSU’s of the world to the New York Jets.
Projection: Top 25 pick