Mary Paoletti of CSNNE.com reports that a deal for linebacker Dont'a Hightower's contract may hinge on a fourth-year guarantee clause. The first-round pick from Alabama is one of 14 unsigned first-round draft picks and is the only Patriot rookie yet to sign with the club. Defensive end Chandler Jones, taken by the Patriots at 21st overall, recently signed a four-year deal with no money guaranteed in his final year, so Paoletti reports that Hightower and his agent will push for a fourth-year guarantee to try to "get the financial train back on the tracks" for the rest of the first-round draft class.
Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders lists running back Stevan Ridley (5th), quarterback Ryan Mallett (16th), and offensive lineman Marcus Cannon (19th) as among the NFL's top 25 prospects. Schatz's list is limited to players 26 or younger who have less than five career NFL starts. "Ridley has good lower-body control and balance with a powerful stride," Schatz writes of the young running back. Schatz notes that Mallett is a "tall, classic pocket passer with elite arm strength" while Cannon "was a flat-out steal" in the draft who should see significant playing time by the end of the season.
Mike Rodak of ESPNBoston.com believes that linebacker Bobby Carpenter could play a significant role in the Patriots defense this season. Rodak writes that Carpenter "saw the majority of his reps with the group of players expected to make up the core of the defense" during minicamp. The former Detriot Lion also excels in pass coverage, which "could earn [him] a role in sub packages." Carpenter's main competitor for playing time will be rookie Dont'a Hightower, whom Rodak reports may be the club's favored choice at strong-side linebacker in the long term.
Greg A. Bedard of the Boston Globe writes that there may be a three-player battle between Niko Koutouvides, Jeff Tarpinian, and Tracy White for the final roster spot at outside linebacker. "Depending on the injury situation, look for this to be a spot where the Patriots try to steal a roster spot for either the line or the secondary," writes Bedard. With Jerod Mayo and Bobby Carpenter as locks to make the roster, Bedard believes the third slot will come down to "whoever is the better special teams player." Bedard picks Tarpinian to make the club.
Dan Hanzus of NFL.com sees the Patriots' secondary as its greatest uncertainty heading into the season. Hanzus writes that the group is "loaded with potential" in cornerbacks Devin McCourty, Ras-I Dowling, Kyle Arrington, and safety Sterling Moore. Doubts remain, however, as McCourty is coming off a "lost season" while Dowling has been struggling with "physical issues." "This is a unit that can go in one of two very different directions," writes Hanzus. "It will be Bill Belichick's job to see if he can turn a question mark in 2011 into a strength in 2012."