Originally written on 60 Max Power O  |  Last updated 3/12/12

The Patriots have quietly collected a very solid linebacker corp led by Jerod Mayo. However, new kids on the block Brandon Spikes, Dane Fletcher and Rob Ninkovich have taken solid steps in revamping the once famous heart of the Belichick defense.

What the Patriots lack is solid depth and that one dominating three down linebacker. The Patriots mix and match to play combinations and matchups, but lack that one guy the other team has to always account for.

Jerod Mayo played in the middle and at weakside linebacker, but still isn’t a pass rusher because he has too many responsibilities.

Spikes is a good instinctive player, but lacks pass rush moves and speed. Fletcher is versatile, also being able to play the middle and outside linebacker, but is a little above average. Ninkovich has become the second best linebacker - he’s got some pass rush moves and coverage ability.

After that, the depth falls off and this is where the Patriots need to improve and again, that three down linebacker who links the hybrid.

Re-signing Andre Carter and Mark Anderson would give the Patriots a very good set of linebackers. Adding either a dominating player or role player could further bolster the defense. Let’s take a look at some names that could help:

1. Mario Williams
There are rumors that the Patriots are interested in Williams, and why not? He’s 6’6" 290 pounds and was converted from a 4-3 end to a 3-4 outside linebacker and played better. He’s in the prime of his career and the Patriots would get fair value even if the dollars are high. His talent isn’t a question and he proved everyone wrong after being the number one overall pick, being taken before Reggie Bush and Vince Young. Williams has ended many questions about whether he was worth the pick. If the Patriots go bold, Williams will be the guy, he’s a game changer.

2. James Farrior
Began his pro career in 1997 as the 8th overall pick for the New York Jets and was selected by Bill Parcells; that makes him appealing to Belichick. There aren’t many Parcells linebackers left and Farrior could be a useful part of the Patriots defense. A veteran presence coming from another championship level team would be a great addition. Pittsburgh is dumping fuel and the Patriots could go bargain hunting.

3. Jamaal Westerman
This would be a double kill as he’s a restricted free agent with the New York Jets. Westerman played solid after Bryan Thomas went down for the season and had a very disruptive performance against the Patriots. He’s young, strong, has speed and has played in the 3-4 and shown pass rush ability. The tender to New York won’t cost much and they’ll get a player they know well.

The Verdict:

The Patriots and Bill Belichick have $19 million to play with and lost two Super Bowls because the defense couldn’t stop the final opposing team’s drive. We like the Williams scenario, but struggle with the cost, and he’s coming off an injury. James Farrior is a cap casualty, not a declining veteran, and we think he’ll be a good fit in New England.

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