Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
Syracuse's Brandon Sharpe brings versatility as a hybrid defensive end.
With Jerod Mayo in the middle, Brandon Spikes on the weak side and rookie first-round pick Dont'a Hightower on the strong side, New England's linebacker unit is a frightening bunch.
This year, the former high-draft selections combined for 299 total tackles, eight sacks, 14 tackles for loss, 13 pass deflections and nine forced fumbles. With output like that, don't expect this group to be broken up anytime soon.
Although, the depth behind the starting three is another story. The Patriots' most adept reserve linebacker is Dane Fletcher, who has been on injured reserve since August. After him, the roster includes a collection of special teams contributors like Tracy White, Niko Koutouvides and former practice squad journeyman Mike Rivera.
One injury to Mayo, Spikes or Hightower and it's a huge setback for New England's 4-3 hybrid front. That's why the Patriots should look to bolster the position in the final hours of April's draft.
Syracuse's Brandon Sharpe could still be waiting.
Sharpe is a bit of an enigma because he was moved from linebacker to defensive end during his freshman year with the Orangemen, per SUAthletics.com. The move will likely be reverted in the pros, but he's proven to be a high-motor guy nevertheless.
This past season, the 6'1", 253-pound pass-rusher was credited with 39 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, seven sacks, two pass breakups, a forced fumble and even a safety.
Having played in 48 games since 2009, Sharpe knows how to get on the field and should do so in the NFL. He will need to work on his coverage, as he spent most of his collegiate career with a hand in the turf. While that may make him vulnerable dropping back to defend the pass, it also makes him a intriguing option coming off the edge.
The Patriots could always use another versatile "thumper" and that's exactly what Sharpe is. An All-Big East Second Team selection, Sharpe was a big reason why Syracuse ranked sixth nationally in tackles for loss, per NCAA.com.
Sharpe is a little thicker than you'd like for an outside linebacker, but he runs hard to make up for it. He may not have the highest ceiling and fastest 40-yard dash time, but Sharpe would be a complementary No. 4 linebacker to have outside behind Hightower and Spikes. At the very least, he will find a niche in the NFL as a situational pass-rusher.
For what it's worth, Sharpe played alongside Patriots' 2012 first-rounder Chandler Jones for three seasons. And after Jones's solid rookie season, the Patriots might go back to the Syracuse pipeline once again this year.
CBSSports.com ranks Sharpe as the 20th-best outside linebacker available in the draft and Bleacher Report's Matt Miller slots him as the 199th overall prospect. While it's still early in the draft process, Sharpe hasn't attended a senior all-star game and is flying under the radar. It's possible that the Virginia Beach native could fall to Round 7.