Bill Belichick has made it a habit of stockpiling picks, and if anything, using those picks to trade down and accumulate more. But prior to the 2012 draft, the Patriots actually had traded up 15 times since 2000 compared to 13 trade-downs.
However, they hadn’t traded up in the first round since 2003, and on Thursday night, they did it. Twice.
The Patriots had big needs in the front seven, and moved up to select Syracuse DE Chandler Jones at No. 21 and then Alabama LB Dont'a Hightower at No. 25.
Once again, Belichick seems to have outsmarted his foes while addressing needs on defense.
Jones has plenty of upside and size, with a “developing frame to fill out and become a pass-rushing force,” as Nolan Nawrocki wrote in his scouting report in the 2012 Draft Preview. With Mark Anderson gone to the Bills via free agency and Andre Carter still a free agent, the Patriots were lacking at pass rusher, and haven’t gone after pass rushers early in Belichick’s tenure.
Jones has scheme versatility that should fit the Patriots’ defense. There are questions about him (one personnel source told PFW earlier in the week that Jones is “not going to produce as a pass rusher”), but he was one of the draft’s late risers and should factor into the D-line rotation from Day One. The defensive line group has experienced lots of shuffling outside Vince Wilfork the past two seasons. Kyle Love seems solid on the interior, but there are questions on the edges, and players like Brandon Deaderick, who has battled injuries. Jones adds depth, and hopefully for the Pats, a pass-rushing element.
Hightower, on paper, is a brilliant pick by the Pats, taking him ahead of the Ravens, who reportedly coveted the former Alabama ‘backer. Belichick feels comfortable drafting defensive players from Nick Saban’s system, and like Jones, Hightower has some versatility. The Pats had struggles last season when Brandon Spikes got hurt, and Dane Fletcher also battled injuries. Hightower adds depth and, if healthy, has “Pro Bowl potential,” according to Nawrocki.
Hightower is powerful, versatile and smart — a skill set that fits the Patriots’ defense nicely. The linebacking corps needed a little more bulk and physicality outside of Jerod Mayo and Spikes. The trifecta at linebacker of Mayo, Spikes and Hightower will be very imposing for opponents, and Belichick will find ways to move Rob Ninkovich around, possibly playing him at D-end more often.
Expect the Pats to make some trades on Friday, likely trading down to collect some late-round picks on Saturday. They still have needs at wideout, on the O-line and in the secondary, but Patriots fans can be pleased that their team exited Thursday with two potential playmakers on defense.
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