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Jones, Hightower highlight Patriots draft

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Jones, Hightower highlight Patriots draft AP photo by Al Bello
Team trades up for Syracuse end, Alabama linebacker

The New England Patriots draft strategy in recent years has involved a lot of wheeling and dealing. Coach Bill Belichick seems to take particular delight in trading down and accumulating more and more future assets. While it certainly makes sense as a long-term strategy, in the short term it can feel a bit frustrating. We want to see the team take shots at top-level players, rather than being content with quantity over quality.

This year, we got a little of both.

New England had two first round picks this year, so most of us expected some sort of trade to happen. What we didn't anticipate was Belichick trading up with both picks in order to snap up players they coveted. Most of the mid-round picks were sacrificed in the trading process, but the Patriots wound up with some solid blue-chip talent and a few intriguing prospects. The draft had an overwhelmingly defensive flavor, with the team selecting only one offensive player.

New England's first first-rounder was defensive end Chandler Jones out of Syracuse. There's no denying Jones's athletic pedigree; his brother Art is a defensive tackle with the Ravens, and his brother Jon is UFC superstar Jon 'Bones' Jones. The 6' 5', 266 pound defensive end looks to be a solid pass rusher, filling a need that the Patriots have felt since Richard Seymour's departure a few years ago. He's not as heavy as some ends he'll serve as more of a linebacker/end hybrid. His 2011 season was derailed by injury, but he appears to have fully recovered. Belichick seems to love the guy; that's good enough for me.

Next, the Pats traded up again so they could land Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower. He was the captain and centerpiece of Alabama's number-one ranked defense. He made the first team of every All-American squad out there. He was a finalist for a handful of major awards, including the Lombardi Award (best lineman/linebacker), the Butkus Award (best linebacker) and the Chuck Bednarik Award (best defensive player). He's a heady player who has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He's equally comfortable defending the pass and the run; he has the potential to become a real defensive leader.

The second round pick, however, left a lot of the experts scratching their heads. New England selected little-heralded safety Tavon Wilson out of Illinois. Most of the pundits had Wilson earmarked as a mid- to late-round pick; some even had him going undrafted entirely. That said, Wilson is a three-year starter and team captain who has a reputation as a good character guy. Wilson's draft status was likely hurt by his absence from the combine; regardless, it's another example of Bill Belichick showing the world that he doesn't really care what it thinks.

In the third round, the Pats picked up Jacob Bequette, a defensive end from Arkansas. He started all four years in college and put together some solid numbers. His ceiling doesn't seem that high, but he looks like he could be a contributor.

New England didn't pick again until the sixth round, using that pick and their two seventh rounders to pick up defensive backs Nate Ebner (Ohio State) and Alfonzo Dennard (Nebraska) and wide receiver Jeremy Ebert (Northwestern); the three of them are expected to contribute primarily on special teams.

The two first-round picks look like good ones; at the very least, the team landed the players that it wanted. Jones and Hightower look capable of contributing right away. The Wilson pick seems like a surprising reach. As to the rest, it seems like typical New England: solid, but unspectacular.


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