Editor's Note: A continuing series looking at how the Patriots could fill need positions through the NFL Draft, April 26-28.

There was a time when the Patriots loaded up on high-level linebackers early in the draft.

From 2008 to 2013, the Pats selected a linebacker in the first or second round in four of six drafts, which helped stock their defense with Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins. Over the last four years (2014-17), the Patriots have selected zero linebackers in the first five rounds of any draft.

If there’s a year to buck that trend and get back to their old ways, it’s 2018.

The Patriots lack of linebacker depth was glaring last season. At middle linebacker, the team relied on 2016 sixth-round pick Elandon Roberts. They toyed with using Kyle Van Noy in that spot as well before moving him to outside linebacker/edge rusher. The linebacker depth took a huge hit when Dont’a Hightower was lost for the season with a pectoral injury.

The team tried to bring in help, but David Harris didn’t have much tread left on his tires. Marquis Flowers helped a bit with the pass rush, but the depth was still lacking.

This offseason, Harris retired and the Patriots released Shea McClellin, who missed last season with a concussion. One area in which the team could look for help in the draft is at inside linebacker — someone to keep Van Noy and Hightower on the edge.

The Pats currently hold eight draft picks, including two first-round picks. Here’s a look at some candidates:

First-round candidate: Rashaan Evans, Alabama

Evans stands 6-foot-3 at 234 pounds. He plays with excellent speed and could help in coverage. At Alabama, he showed versatility playing both the inside and outside linebacker positions. Evans finished with 74 tackles, six sacks and three pass deflections last year. He’s one of the Patriots 30 pre-draft visits, met with the Pats at the Combine and Bill Belichick was at his Pro Day.

Second-round candidate: Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State

Vander Esch is a 6-foot-4, 256-pound ultra productive inside linebacker. At Boise State, he finished last year with 141 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions and five pass deflections. Has the ability to be an every-down linebacker and seems well versed in pass coverage. His draft stock seems to be on the rise. Vander Esch met with the Patriots at the Combine.

Third-round candidate: Josey Jewell, Iowa

Jewell is a bit undersized at 6-foot-1, 235 pounds, but he was very productive at Iowa. An All-American, he finished with 132 tackles and 4.5 sacks last season. He made 433 tackles in his collegiate career. Jewell is very good in pass coverage, making two interceptions and 11 pass deflections last season. He met with the Patriots after his Iowa Pro Day.

Sixth-round candidate: Skai Moore, South Carolina

Moore stands 6-foot-2, 226 pounds, but what he lacked in size, he made up for in production. Moore finished college with 351 tackles, five sacks and 14 interceptions. Last season, he made 93 stops to go with two sacks. As evident by his numbers, Moore stands out in pass coverage. Patriots met with Moore at the Combine. Bill Belichick broke down film with Moore at South Carolina.

Seventh-round candidate: Jack Cichy, Wisconsin

A former walk-on, Cichy battled adversity at Wisconsin, missing part of the 2016 season with a torn pectoral and then all of last season with a knee injury. When healthy, the 6-foot-2, 234-pound inside linebacker was solid. As a sophomore, he made 60 tackles and five sacks. He’s a strong team leader and special teams standout. Nick Caserio was at his Pro Day.