As the Patriots continue to eke out wins this year with a great offense and a young defense, pass-rush continues to be a part of the equation that fans want to see more of. Typically, that is going to come from the 3-4 OLB position. Here are our top five (plus one sleeper) prospects that the Patriots might be able to get their hands on this spring.
Ryan Kerrigan - Purdue
Kerrigan is a Senior with a lightning-quick first step and a motor that just won't stop. His consistent production at a school that has produced the likes of Shaun Phillips shows that he should be able to produce at a high level in the NFL as well.
He has assembled quite the repertoire of rush moves, giving slower tackles fits with dips, spins, and feints. That said, when a fleet-footed tackle is able to keep up with him, Kerrigan has the strength to go to a bull-rush.
Kerrigan gives nothing against the run either - he is truly a complete player. We will be shocked if he lasts too far into the 2nd half of the first round.
Robert Quinn - North Carolina
Quinn could easily and probably will get drafted before Ryan Kerrigan, but without playing in 2010 due to some off-the-field issues, there certainly are some risks.
Granted, Quinn has physical talent to spare. That said, it remains to be seen whether he has progressed enough mentally on the football field to be able to transition to a very complicated 3-4 system.
This [former] tarheel might be one of the biggest "boom or bust" guys to come out in a while.
Jeremy Beal - Oklahoma
Beal might be the exact opposite of Quinn. He is an incredibly solid prospect, known for his work ethic and football smarts.
Like Kerrigan, Beal stands up strong against the run, while also being able to pressure the quarterback. The Sooner relies much more heavily on the bull-rush, not having the full arsenal of rush moves that he'll need to excel at the NFL level.
If he is able to diversify his moves and counters, his length, strength, and smarts would certainly be an asset to a 3-4 system like the Patriots employ.
Aldon Smith - Missouri
Smith is a physical freak that still needs some coaching and strength work to reach his full football potential. He has got by on his motor, long body, and speed for too long.
He has one incredible rush move - the swim - but may need to diversify to keep up his production at the next level.
His strength will certainly need upgraded, as he will be out-gunned initially by some of the stronger o-linemen and tight ends in the NFL.
While there are certainly some question marks about Smith, the promise of pressure that he brings is too intriguing to cast aside without a second look at least.
Von Miller - Texas A&M
You want pass rush? Von Miller will bring you pass rush. Unfortunately, that is sometimes all that he will bring.
In the Patriots 3-4 system, he might be a situational guy, brought in on passing downs. Often times, that is seen as a negative. However, if you look at the statistics, the Patriots spend over half of their defensive snaps in some sort of sub-package.
While we question his ability to set the edge effectively in the NFL, he should be able to pressure the quarterback - which is exactly what the Patriots need. If Miller is still available in the second round, they might take a shot.
Sleeper: Dain Taylor - Drake
For us, he is this year's Austen Lane - an athletic, smart, motivated guy that will need to prove himself against the top competition. We love what we've seen out of him so far in his career: nothing but tackles, disruption, and pressure.
The Patriots seem to agree. They've made the trek to Des Moines, Iowa on at least one occasion.
James Christensen's scouting updates will appear here on PatriotsInsider.com throughout the year. James is the publisher of NEPatriotsDraft.com, an independent website dedicated to covering the NFL Draft and college prospects with professional potential.