Patriots take defensive star in first round of Todd McShay's new 2021 NFL Mock Draft

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Nick Goss
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Patriots take defensive star in first round of McShay's new 2021 NFL Mock Draft originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The New England Patriots have an aging defense in some areas, and one position that could be bolstered by some young talent is linebacker.

Linebacker isn't the Patriots' most pressing roster need entering the 2021 NFL Draft, but depending on who's available when they're on the clock at No. 15, it would make sense to look at a potential defensive star in the first round.

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay published his latest 2021 NFL Mock Draft on Wednesday, and he projects the Patriots to select Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons in Round 1.

Here's part of McShay's explanation for the Parsons pick:

"No, one of the top five quarterbacks isn't available, but this isn't a bad consolation prize for coach Bill Belichick. Parsons -- my No. 4 prospect overall -- slides to the No. 15 pick here because of unique circumstances following a rush on QBs and wide receivers. Dont'a Hightower will be back after opting out of the 2020 season and Chase Winovich has been disruptive off the edge, but Parsons gives Belichick a true sideline-to-sideline linebacker who can do a little bit of everything. And if the team moves on from Hightower after the 2021 season when he is set to be a free agent, Parsons would be the QB of this defense going forward."

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The Patriots linebacker corps was hit hard by free agency last offseason when veterans Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts all left New England. Dont'a Hightower also opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 and only has one year left on his contract. 

The Patriots drafted Michigan linebacker Josh Uche and Alabama linebacker Anfernee Jennings in the second and third round, respectively, in the 2020 draft. Both players showed flashes of their potential as rookies, but neither made a substantial impact.

Parsons opted out of the 2020 season but had a very good sophomore season for Penn State during which he tallied 52 solo tackles, five sacks and five passes defensed in 13 games. The Nittany Lions have a long history of producing quality linebackers.

The Patriots are projected to have 10 picks, including compensatory selections, in the 2021 draft. They also should have around $60 million in salary cap space to use in the offseason.