There's been talk of the Patriots and Dallas Cowboys working on a trade to move the Pats into the ninth overall selection so they can take Cal's Cameron Jordan, but I don't buy it. Knowing the Pats (and Jordan's rising draft stock), this could just be a ploy to get some other team to take Jordan, who is a pretty good fit for New England, leaving the Pats to take someone who is an even better fit. The Patriots have "overpaid" before for a certain defensive lineman, his name was Ty Warren. He wasn't supposed to be good enough for the 13th overall pick, but the Patriots adhere to their own rankings. Since they utilize their own system and need to stock it with players who fit that system, it makes sense for the Patriots to combine fits for their team and draft stock to determine a pick. This is why Belichick trades so many picks. Aside from being a genius, that is. If he doesn't see a prospect worth taking at a given draft spot who fits the system, he doesn't. It's very straightforward but can become very complex. Who fits their system? After signing with the team, we learned that Adalius Thomas was not a fit. After "overpaying" him in the draft, we learned that Ty Warren was a fit. Who in this draft class fits? Excluding the obvious (Robert Quinn, Aldon Smith; players who have no shot of being on the board at No. 17), the two best players the Patriots have a realistic chance of drafting are Cameron Heyward and Muhammad Wilkerson.
Heyward is a good option for the Pats because he is great against the run and has enough power in him to be a viable, though likely not better than average, pass rusher. Because of concerns surrounding his elbow (Tommy John surgery), Heyward may be available as late as 28 (assuming the Patriots don't trade out of this slot, though if Heyward is still there I don't think they will) and would be a great complement to the defensive pieces already in place. In New England's 3-4 Heyward profiles as a defensive end and should become an every-down player, something the Patriots badly need (as well as a strong need to get rid of Gerard Warren). However, should the Pats switch to a 4-3 defense, Heyward also has the versatility to play defensive tackle. Long story short: Bill Belichick will be in hog heaven if he can net this at 28. Just to play it safe, he may take Heyward at 17, or use the 17th pick on someone else while using the 28th pick to move up and net Heyward. The Patriots have a ton of options and it's still anyone's best guess, but my guess is Heyward. The only way he could be a better fit for the system is if he could rush the QB like Robert Quinn, although if he could he'd probably be a top 10 or top 5 pick.
Wilkerson looks like the best fit of all for New England's system, where he would line up as a defensive end. He's big and strong enough to defend against the run, should be a good pass rusher, and is a team-leader type. The Patriots may "overpay" for Wilkerson at 17 just like they did for Warren at 13 because his build is almost exactly the same as Ty Warren's. His motor never stops running and regardless of whether or not he's netting sacks, he can evade blockers easily enough to constantly be making plays at the line of scrimmage. After allowing the most third down conversions by far last year, this is the kind of defensive impact the Patriots need to be looking for in order to get past the first round of the playoffs. Like I said with Heyward before, the Patriots may be "value" drafters, but if they can get Wilkerson at 17 and Heyward at 28, you won't see them trading any draft picks tonight. That's all the value they need on defense right there.
I'd just like to say before wrapping this up that most things never go as according to planned, so the Patriots (and their giddy fans, like me) can't count on them being able to take both Wilkerson and Heyward tonight. So what other options exist? Luckily for the Pats, several other good fits will be out there for the taking in round one, including Ryan Kerrigan, JJ Watt, Cameron Jordan, and Brooks Reed. One guy I'd like to focus on is Reed, because there is a much better chance the Patriots will be able to net him than there is that they could take Kerrigan, Watt, or Jordan. Reed is considered a late first round talent, and the defensive end from Arizona is a high-motor, passionate player. He's considered one of the best pure pass rushers in the draft and may have similar upside to Clay Matthews, but the downside is that he lacks the athleticism to shed some blocks and like Matthews, is a liability against the run. Reed will definitely be around late in the first round and even though he isn't the most well-rounded prospect, physically he's not a bad fit for New England's system and provides the kind of edge rusher the Pats passed up on when they traded the pick they could have used on Matthews a few seasons ago. Of course, there is debate over whether or not Matthews would fit in a 3-4 system, so the same concerns exist here. With the Patriots Reed would turn into a project player, as he'd have to switch to outside linebacker from defensive end, so he'd require time to learn the ropes.