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Possibilities at 21: Running backs and defensive backs

Anticipation is building for the NFL Draft, which is now less than a month away. As we get closer to the big day, speculation continues to grow regarding who the Patriots will select in the first round.

Running BacksThe landscape of the draft at the running back position has changed since the Combine because of what happened in free agency. The Cardinals signed Edgerrin James, the Vikings Chester Taylor and the Ravens Jamal Lewis and Mike Anderson. These were three teams believed to be in the market for a running back but with their acquisitions in free agency, there's now a good chance a couple of the blue chip backs will slip to the Patriots.

USC's Reggie Bush (5-11, 201 pounds) will almost certainly go to the Texans with the top pick. Bush's teammate LenDale White (6-0, 238 pounds), Memphis' DeAngelo Williams (5-9, 217 pounds) and Minnesota's Laurence Maroney (5-11, 217 pounds) are the three other backs most likely to go in round one.

White is the one real power back in this draft. His running style is similar to that of Corey Dillon and he was a touchdown-scoring machine while at USC – setting the all-time school record for rushing touchdowns with 52. White has the kind of build to take the pounding as an every-down back in the NFL but there are some concerns regarding his work ethic and ability to control his weight.

Williams led the nation with 1,959 rushing yards this past season despite the fact Memphis was relegated to playing with their third string quarterback for most of the year. His quick feet and powerful running style helped Williams set an NCAA record with 7,337 all-purpose yards. The compact Williams is hard to tackle, especially once he gets into the open field.

Some people question Maroney's ability to carry the load in the NFL since he only weighed 205 pounds in college. Many of those worries were put to rest when he showed up at the Combine weighing 217 pounds. Maroney is a game-breaker with exceptional speed and vision. Having a home run hitter like him in the backfield along with Tom Brady could be a scary proposition for opposing defenses.

A month ago it didn't appear likely that one of the top four backs would be on the board when the Patriots pick came up. Now there's a good chance that at least one or two of them will be available at 21.

Some possibilities later in the draft include Mississippi State's Jerious Norwood (5-11, 210 pounds), UCLA's Maurice Drew (5-8, 207 pounds) and Virginia's Wali Lundy (5-10, 214 pounds). The Patriots showed interest in all three players at the Combine.

Defensive Backs
It seems like the Patriots always need help at defensive back and this year is no different. While safety appears to be the more pressing need, the Patriots have showed a lot of interest in Fresno State cornerback Richard Marshall (5-11, 190 pounds).

Marshall is a tough corner who actually led Fresno State in tackles last year with 78. He also has a penchant for making the big play. Marshall set a school record by returning three interceptions for touchdowns during his career, with two of them going for 75 and 100 yards respectively.

The former Bulldog is the kind of player Bill Belichick likes. He's a tough kid who was a three-year starter at Fresno State and playing for Pat Hill certainly improves Marshall's chances of becoming a Patriot.

If the Patriots do select a defensive back in round one, there's a good chance Marshall will get the call. However, the team has also shown interest in Miami's Kelly Jennings (5-11, 178 pounds) and Clemson's Tye Hill (5-9, 185 pounds). Both corners are extremely fast and break on the ball well but neither is as physical as Marshall when it comes to playing the run.

The Patriots probably won't select a safety with the 21st pick but they should address the position between rounds two and four of the draft. Players who fit the Patriots scheme and should be available for them after round one include Tennessee's Jason Allen (6-2, 205 pounds), Georgia's Greg Blue (6-2, 215 pounds), Syracuse's Anthony Smith (5-11, 195 pounds) and Texas Tech's Dwayne Slay (6-3, 218 pounds).

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