NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
1 – LB/DE Chandler Jones – 6-5, 266 – Syracuse
1 – ILB Dont’a Hightower – 6-2, 265 – Alabama
2 – S Tavon Wilson – 6-0, 205 – Illinois
3 – LB/DE Jake Bequette – 6-5, 274 – Arkansas
6 – DB Nate Ebner – 6-0, 205 – Ohio State
7 – CB Alfonzo Dennard – 5-10, 204 – Nebraska
7 – WR Jeremy Ebert – 5-11, 200 – Northwestern
As always, the Pats moved around and made things interesting. They jumped up in the 1st round to draft Chandler Jones, a DE from Syracuse. Where he plays in NE is anyone’s guess. We don’t know if Bill Belichick will run more 4-3 or 3-4. Jones will be a 3-4 OLB or 4-3 DE. Simply put, he’s a pass rusher.
That’s an area where NE has needed to get younger for a while. Belichick has been able to plug in guys like Tully Banta-Cain and Rob Ninkovich, but he needs a really talented guy to be a long term solution. Jones could be that guy. While Chandler didn’t post huge sack numbers at Syracuse, he did show many of the traits needed to be a good pass rusher in the NFL. Jones has good size. He is a natural athlete. He also is physical and can shed blocks. I’m sure that last note is one that Belichick was most fond of. Richard Seymour was not an explosive pass rusher coming out of Georgia, but he was athletic and physical. He was also bigger than Jones and a DE/DT tweener, but you can see that Belichick likes physical, athletic, versatile DL.
There was talk of Jones going close to the Top 10. I didn’t think that made any sense at all. I certainly liked him quite a bit, but that was just too high. The Pats got him at pick 21, more reasonable value, even if it seemed early to some. Belichick has had success with defensive rookies in recent years (McCourty, Spikes, Mayo). It won’t be surprising if Jones joins that list. He has NFL size and good strength. The Pats need his skill set so I can see them finding ways to use Jones right away, if he doesn’t outright win a starting spot.
The Pats had another 1st round pick and used this one on Dont’a Hightower. I admit that this confused me. I think he is ideally a 3-4 ILB. He can play 4-3 MLB. I’m not so sure about him as a 4-3 OLB. In the first couple of weeks of mini-camps Hightower has been at MLB. Is that temporary or not? Does Brandon Spikes move outside, even though he lacks ideal speed? Lots of questions as you can see.
Hightower is a very good player and his the kind of versatile weapon that Belichick should love. Dont’a was an inside run stuffer in the base defense, but then moved outside to DE in Nickel and Dime looks. I thought he was the hardest hitter in the whole draft. Belichick loves LBs that can punish runners and receivers.
If any coach can figure out how best to use Jerrod Mayo, Spikes, and Hightower, it is Belichick. Those are 3 big, tough, physical LBs from the SEC.
Belichick shocked a lot of people by taking S Tavon Wilson in the 2nd round. He took some heat for that pick. I’ll defend him. I liked Wilson as a Safety. I watched him as a CB and he was mediocre. I watched one game this year where he played S and was really impressed. I watched some 2010 tape of him at S and was impressed by that as well.
To me, Wilson is a natural Safety. He has solid cover skills. He is a good run defender. When he reads run, Wilson comes up quickly and aggressively. About a decade ago Belichick took another CB from Illinois and put him at FS. That was Eugene Wilson. The results were pretty good. Wilson won 2 Super Bowls as the starting FS for the Pats and was part of the 2007 team as well.
We’ll have to see if the Pats can strike gold twice. Tavon Wilson was a reach pick to many. He wasn’t at the Senior Bowl or Shrine Game. He wasn’t at the Combine. He had a good Pro Day, but didn’t blow anyone away. Wilson posted solid stats at Illinois, but nothing freakish. This is a Belichick pick. If it works, he’s a genius. If it doesn’t, he just rolled the dice and got burned. Not all 32 coaches/GMs could make this pick and be comfortable with it. I won’t be the least bit shocked if Wilson turns out to be a darn good player.
In the 3rd round the Pats went for another LB/DE tweener to boost the pass rush. They chose Jake Bequette from Arkansas. He played DE for the Hogs, but lined up as a 3-4 OLB at the Senior Bowl. The Pats got a chance to see him handle both spots.
Bequette was good value in the 3rd round. He has a good frame. Excellent motor. Good athlete who can get off the ball quickly, but isn’t explosive. He finished his career with 23.5 sacks and 8 FFs. I like him better at DE where he can fly off the edge and chase the QB. Bequette did show at the Senior Bowl that he can play in space and be a LB if the Pats do shift back to more of a 3-4 look. Could also be a great STer.
There were no 4th or 5th round picks. In the 6th the Pats threw us another curveball. They took Nate Ebner from Ohio State. That doesn’t sound like a big deal until you realize that most of his experience is in rugby and he was mainly a STer for the Buckeyes. Ebner has put rugby on hold for now and is concentrating on trying to make it in the NFL. He will be a Safety for the Pats. Ebner opened eyes with a great showing at the OSU Pro Day. He was fast, quick, agile, and explosive. The hope is that he’ll be an impact STer and develop into a role player on defense. Should be a real interesting guy to follow.
New England had a pair of picks in the 7th round. First, they chose Nebraska CB Alfonzo Dennard. The thought of him going lower than the 2nd round seemed like insanity as recently as January. Dennard had a good career at Nebraska. He then went to the Senior Bowl and struggled mightily. That hurt his value. Dennard had some nagging injuries that kept him from doing a full workout for teams. He then was involved in an incident where he was charged with hitting a cop right before the draft. That combination of things killed his value.
Dennard has NFL ability. He must now show that he can overcome a terrible start to the 2012 year. Basically nothing has gone right for him. He’s in the NFL, though, and that means he’ll be judged on what he does from here on out. Dennard could be a good fit for the Pats. He loves to jump routes. He’s quite good at it. If he can stay focused, Dennard could prove to be a major steal for the Pats.
The final pick landed them WR Jeremy Ebert from NW. Any time the Pats take a small, white WR he is “the next Wes Welker”. Ebert is already hearing that stuff. We’ll see. I was shocked when Ebert ran 4.38 at his Pro Day. I just didn’t see that kind of speed when watching him play. He was very productive for the Wildcats. Ebert finished his career 173-2400-21. If that speed shows up on the field, Ebert will instantly be faster than Welker. Is he as good at getting open and doing all the little things Welker is so masterful at? That’s a whole other story. I thought of Ebert as a UDFA, but with his Pro Day and that production, I can easily see where the Pats felt he was worth a 7th round pick. He has little RS experience. He’ll need to be a STs standout to push for a roster spot.