BOSTON — Ultimately, the New England Patriots will unveil just how greatly they need a linebacker in this week’s draft.

They’d certainly be fine with the group headlined by captain Dont’a Hightower and his four-year $43.5 million contract extension, but it’s unclear how they feel about their depth or how they plan to deploy their versatile pieces.

They were OK down the stretch last season with Hightower, Elandon Roberts, Shea McClellin and Kyle Van Noy, and the Pats will add Jonathan Freeny again in 2017 when he returns from shoulder surgery.

There’s little reason to think the Patriots can’t repeat as Super Bowl champions with that group, but Coach Bill Belichick has a long-evident affinity for linebackers due to his days coaching the position.

The Patriots have very few holes or weaknesses, but linebacker is a debatable one. Hightower is a three-down player; it’s certainly possible they could align him with Roberts and McClellin or Freeny on early downs. Depending on the situation, Van Noy could be plugged into their third-down packages.

However, they may seek a linebacker who can play all three downs like Hightower. The down-specific packages are just fine, but there’s something to be said for continuity.

Plus, the Patriots might want to use McClellin and Van Noy on the defensive edge a bit more. That’s where McClellin started last season before shifting because of need, and Van Noy’s best plays after his midseason trade occurred as a pass rusher.

The great thing about these questions? The Patriots’ decisions during the draft will yield their true feelings.

Will they be able to find a three-down linebacker where they’re slotted, though? Belichick has selected 4-3 linebackers 17 times in his tenure, but only Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Hightower and Jamie Collins earned starting roles for multiple seasons. Basically, when Belichick selects a linebacker in the first two rounds, he’s golden, but he won’t have a pick in the first two rounds unless the Patriots trade quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo or cornerback Malcolm Butler.

If New England gets an earlier pick, the first name that comes to mind is Alabama’s Reuben Foster. Foster is likely the best 4-3 linebacker in this year’s class, but he could tumble because of off-field concerns – he told NFL Network last week that he will be in the league’s drug program because of flagged tests.

Florida’s Jarrad Davis and Ohio State’s Raekwon McMillan would be two other options with a top-40 pick.

But if the Patriots wait until later in the draft, they’d obviously have to figure out whether or not that remaining crop is worth selecting. Mid- to late-round options include Northwestern’s Anthony Walker Jr., LSU’s Kendell Beckwith, Lindenwood’s Connor Harris, Clemson’s Ben Boulware, Ohio’s Blair Brown and Michigan’s Ben Gedeon.