After months of studying the NFL draft, we'll start our list of "10 perfect Patriots," narrowing down the list of prospects to a select group that we feel would be ideal (and realistic) for the New England Patriots, while adding a few draft-related thoughts:
Player: Ryan Shazier
School: Ohio State
Position: Weakside linebacker
Listed height/weight: 6-foot-1 1/8, 237 pounds
Scouts Inc. position rank: 2nd (scouting profile)
Draft projection: First round
Why he's on our list: If not for such a strong draft filled with top-end offensive tackles, pass rushers and wide receivers, a player like Shazier wouldn't be in the conversation/projection for a club picking at No. 29. He's a fast, athletic instinctive linebacker who could fit with any team, but he makes the "10 Perfect Patriots" list because he could potentially fit into the "rare opportunity" category for the club. In the base defense, he'd project to Jerod Mayo's position, which wouldn't seem like a need. But considering the Patriots have been in their sub packages anywhere from 60-70 percent of the time in recent seasons, and given their struggles on third-and-long in particular, a prospect with Shazier's athleticism, speed and coverage ability would factor into those packages despite being "undersized" at 237 pounds. Just as we've seen an increase in the value nickel corner in recent years, Shazier would fall into the same category at the linebacker level.
A feel for the weakside linebacker class: Viewing this from a Patriots scheme perspective, and focusing on linebackers who would project to play off the line, Alabama's C.J. Mosley, Shazier and Brigham Young's Kyle Van Noy would likely be among the top considerations early. Most everyone else would seemingly fall into the category of "special teamer/depth" in this draft. For potential early-impact players, this draft doesn't seem deep.
Recommended link: Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch writes on Shazier sharing a special bond with his father, Rev. Vernon Shazier.
Key stat: Played in every game over his college career (39 games, 29 starts), and totaled 39 1/2 tackles for a loss over the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
Workout stat: Had a combine-best 42-inch vertical leap and ran a sub 4.4 40-yard dash at his pro day.
Draft strategy: If Shazier drops into the 20s, he is one of the few players we feel could be viewed as worthy of a trade-up consideration by the Patriots. Still, we have doubts the team would do so, especially after having three cracks at drafting a similar undersized linebacker in 2012 (Lavonte David, second round, 58th overall) and passing each time (Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower, Tavon Wilson). The Patriots have traditionally favored bigger linebackers, even as more of today's game is being played in spread, and we've wondered if they've been too rigid in that area in recent years by letting good opportunities pass them by (e.g. David). If Shazier falls into striking range, he could put that thinking to the test.