In the days leading up to the NFL draft, ESPNBoston.com will identify players who project as solid fits for the Patriots:
Player: Muhammad Wilkerson
Position: Defensive end
Listed height/weight: 6-foot-4 1/8, 315 pounds
Scouts Inc. rank: 5th (scouting report)
Draft projection: First round
Why he’s on our list: For the style of 3-4 defense the Patriots employ, a strong case could be made that Wilkerson fits the defensive end profile better than any prospect, including J.J. Watt, Cameron Jordan and Cameron Heyward. He was a team captain.
Key stat: Totaled 16 1/2 sacks over the last two seasons in which he started all 25 games.
Workout stat: Ran a 4.96 in the 40-yard dash at the Combine, which is an excellent time given his physical make-up.
Steve Muench of Scouts Inc.: "Wilkerson could line up at defensive tackle in a base four-man front, but we believe that his best fit is at defensive end (or '5' technique) in a base 3-4 scheme. He has the frame (6-foot-4 1/8, 315 pounds) and lower-body strength to hold his ground when teams run at him. He also has the long arms to lock out blockers so he can locate the ball, and he can shed blocks in time to make plays at the line of scrimmage. While he doesn't project as a top-tier pass rusher, he can get under offensive tackles and walk them back to the quarterback. Wilkerson is a perfect fit for New England's scheme. In fact, he's built and control blockers like 2003 first-round pick Ty Warren. Now, there are some questions about his work ethic in the weight room, but the Patriots are one of the teams that have the leadership in place to show him the right way to do things and maximize his potential. There's an excellent chance that he's there at pick 17, but I don't see him falling to 28."