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I know what many of you may be thinking, and yes, most mock drafts have the Patriots selecting a defensive end with their first overall pick. How, then, could it only be their third-biggest need? Well, in terms of a 3-4 defense, the ends are the much safer pick compared to the outside linebackers.
Even still, the Patriots could use a legitimate three-down defensive end to put opposite Ty Warren upon his return. More to that point, it's still uncertain as to whether Warren will be back to form or fall off the map. Ian Rapoport of the Boston Herald seems to think Warren might have a tough time even making the roster, but that remains to be seen.
Vince Wilfork is the only sure thing the Patriots have on the defensive line and, other than he and Ty Warren, the cast of characters is mainly rotational players. They do their jobs well, but they don't do as many things well as the Patriots typically ask of their linemen.
The need at outside linebacker would also be somewhat diminished if the Patriots were to take a talented five-technique defensive end, who would consistently collapse the pocket and demand double-teams. That could open up space for linebackers behind him to make plays.
There are, however, many developmental prospects that could turn out to be starters. Watch out for Myron Pryor and Brandon Deaderick next year, as both made strides in 2010 and could be counted on again in 2011.