NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
The 2012 NFL Draft is in the books and now that all the dust has settled it’s time to take an in depth look at what the Patriots came away with over the three day draft. In typical Patriots fashion, some picks were met with excitement and some left you scratching your head. What was the rationale behind each pick? How does each player fit in with the Patriots current roster?
Continue reading for a breakdown of each selection and of course my opinion on each one of them.
There was certainly a lot of pre draft buzz surrounding the Patriots and their interest in the Syracuse defensive end. The buzz ended up being completely true as the Patriots moved up six spots in the first round from pick #27 to pick #21, surrendering a 3rd round pick to the Cincinnati Bengals in the process. We now know that Jones was the player the Patriots had targeted all along and had planned on trading up to get him, this video confirms that.
Bill Belichick doesn’t move up very often and I have to think he doesn’t plan on trading up before the draft to get a specific player ever, so he definitely sees something he likes in Chandler Jones and made the bold move to get him. The Patriots had built up their draft cache over the past few seasons by moving down and it was time to cash in some of the picks.
In the grand scheme of things, a 3rd round pick isn’t a big deal if you think the player you are moving up to get is the best player on your board. Entering the draft with few glaring holes, the Patriots needed to get impact defensive players, not accumulate picks this year and Jones is certainly considered an impact player.
It is going to be interesting to see how the Patriots deploy Jones early on. With his great size (6’5″ 266 lbs.) and length (35.5″ arms) some thing he is best suited to play a 4-3 edge position. Jones was at his best in college when he had his hand in the dirt and could come off the edge to apply pressure on the Quarterback.
The Patriots don’t play a true 4-3 front and I have heard some people question the fit. What makes Jones a great fit for a Bill Belichick defense is going to be his versatility. Unlike some of the other edge rushers in the draft, Jones is pretty solid vs. the run and can play on all three downs.
Jones will likely fit into the Patriots “elephant” position, which is a hybrid defensive end – linebacker. Sometimes he will be asked to stand up and drop into coverage, sometimes he will have his hand in the ground. Having a player like Jones or McGinest on the edge of the defense allows Bill Belichick to get creative with his blitzes and disguise his schemes.
If Chandler Jones develops like Bill Belichick and many others think, Jones will give the Patriots a player they have never had before. Jones’ length is extremely rare. His arms are actually longer than Jason Pierre-Paul’s arms. While Jones doesn’t have the quick twitch and natural agility that Pierre Paul does, he is more powerful and better against the run. Both players have great motors and make a ton of plays by simply chasing down the ball carrier. It’s been awhile since the Patriots have had a young edge rusher to build around and now Jones becomes the cornerstone of the front seven for the next decade.
Personally, I loved the selection and anytime Bill Belichick moves up for a certain player it piques my interest. I think Patriot fans my want to thank the Jets for passing on Jones for the lazy and unmotivated Quinton Coples, because it allowed Jones to fall into the Patriots lap. Those two will be linked throughout their careers in the AFC East and I will take my chances with Jones.
The Patriots were able to keep their interest in Hightower on the down-low unlike their interest Chandler Jones. Almost every draft analyst and expert had Dont’a Hightower going to the Pittsburgh Steelers at pick #24. Once the Steelers passed on Hightower for Stanford OG David DeCastro, the Patriots wasted literally no time and moved up to get him. This time the Patriots only had to surrender a late 4th round pick to move up six spots with Denver from #31 to #25.
I believe Hightower is going to have the most immediate impact of any of the Patriots draft pick. He was one of the most pro ready linebackers in the draft and should have no trouble slotting into the Patriots linebacking corps. Hightower comes from the Alabama defensive which is a very similar scheme to what Bill Belichick runs, so the learning curve should be minimal.
I am truly excited to see what the Patriots do with Hightower. Like Chandler Jones, Hightower offers tremendous versatility and might even be the most versatile defender in the entire draft. At Alabama Hightower moved all over the defensive front seven. He lined up at SILB on certain run downs, he moved to outside linebacker on some downs, whether to cover or rush. Then on obvious passing downs he would line up at defensive end with his hand in the ground and rush the passer.
I’d expect Hightower to come in and compete for a starting job immediately, most likely at OLB. Adding a player of Hightower’s quality to Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes, gives the Patriots one of the best young linebacking trios in the NFL and it should be the backbone of the defense for years to come.
I believe the Patriots were a little hampered last year with the lack of flexibility at the linebacker position. Brandon Spikes is only able to play inside and Jerod Mayo struggled when he had to play OLB for extended periods of time. Hightower will allow the Patriots to rotate their linebackers and become more “scheme diverse”. Hightower will be a three down linebacker in the NFL in my opinion. He dropped into coverage a lot at Alabama and showed pretty good instincts and range when doing so. By adding Hightower and Jones to the front seven, the Patriots got younger, more versatile and more athletic.
Exiting the first round of the draft with two players the caliber of Jones and Hightower was thrilling for Patriot fans. I believe they added two immediate impact players to the front seven. For a team that didn’t have many holes entering the draft, they got two studs, who just made a Super Bowl caliber team that much tougher.
I don’t know any Patriot fan who was disappointed with the first two picks and as I said Thursday night on twitter “this first round is as good as it will ever get for the Patriots”.