Akeem Ayers has nine career sacks with the Titans. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
The Patriots passed on Akeem Ayers in the 2011 draft, but he was certainly a prospect who drew their interest.
“I think I would be a great fit for their defense,” Ayers told me at the combine that February when I asked him about the possibility of playing for the Patriots.
One reason he stuck out as a possible Patriot at the time was the fact that even though he made his bones as a defensive end in college, he displayed enough versatility as a collegian at UCLA to think about him as an outside linebacker/pass rusher in a 3-4 pro set.
“I feel like I can adapt to any kind of defense, whether it’s 4-3 or 3-4, because of my versatility playing defensive end in college [and] being a pass-rush linebacker,” he said at the time.
“As far as my pass-rush ability, I know I’m nowhere near reaching my peak. I’ve done a pretty good job rushing the passer these last two seasons, and I’m only going to get better.”
The Patriots certainly hope so, as they have apparently swung a deal to acquire Ayers. A longish, active presence who worked primarily as an end in college, he was a second-round pick of the Titans out of UCLA in the 2011 draft after finishing his college career with 14 sacks.
The 6-foot-3, 253-pounder made the move to outside linebacker in the pros, and had his best season in 2012 when he had a career-best six sacks and eight passes defensed to go along with 110 tackles for Tennessee. From 2011 through 2013, he started 44 of a possible 48 games his first three years with the Titans.
However, he’s struggled with knee issues as of late — he had two separate knee operations this past offseason to repair the patellar tendons in both knees. In the final year of his rookie deal, Ayers has only been active for two games this season, and has had three tackles. (Pro Football Focus has him down for just 10 snaps on the season.)
He has shown a nice ability to work in support when it comes to run defense, but he’s known first and foremost as a pass rusher. In New England, Ayers’ versatility could allow him to play a couple of different roles in the Patriots’ 4-3 front, including a possible strong-side spot, as well as work as an outside linebacker. Ultimately, New England gets a veteran body to help out as a position where it was dangerously thin following the injury to Jerod Mayo.