By Adam Caplan
June 13, 2012
OLB, CB, FS, DE
Round 1 - Chandler Jones/DE
Round 1 - Dont’a Hightower/LB
Round 2 - Tavon Wilson/S
Round 3 - Jake Bequette/DE
Round 6 - Nate Ebner/S
Round 7 - Alfonzo Dennard/CB
Round 7 - Jeremy Ebert/WR
The Patriots are coming off of a Super Bowl appearance, so you would think that they wouldn’t need a lot of help in order to get back to that level again. However, the reality is their defense is underwhelming. And to help address their struggling secondary, which gave up nearly 294 yards/game, they selected DE Chandler Jones with the first of their two first-round picks. An improved pass rush certainly would have a huge impact on the secondary, which explains why head coach Bill Belichick went with defense with six of the team’s seven selections.
Jones, a favorite of the scouting community, has really good size and speed off the edge. And Jones, while he didn’t have big statistics in college, still plays with good intensity, which probably caught Belichick’s eye. While Jones has to get stronger physically, he certainly is capable of getting to the rotation early since the team isn’t deep at DE.
The other first-rounder, LB Dont’a Hightower, has tremendous versatility. And with the likelihood that the Patriots use more 3-4 fronts than they did last season, Hightower could see time in a variety of roles (ILB/OLB in either front) depending on the down. Because Hightower played in a pro style defensive scheme at Alabama, his ability to process information should come in handy with the Patriots’ diverse looks and schemes.
After two selections which were largely lauded by the scouting community, the Patriots' second-round selection was largely criticized. S Tavon Wilson, according to multiple personnel sources, should have been selected farther down in the draft. In fact, two personnel executives said their respective teams had third day grades (fifth or six round). Wilson played cornerback and safety at the University Illinois and has the positional versatility that Belichick covets, but one of the sources said the rookie doesn’t possess any outstanding qualities, which could explain why the selection was so heavily criticized. But it should be noted that Belichick is willing to take non-combine invitees or unheralded players such as Wilson higher than most teams (see Sebastian Volmer, for example). The veteran coach has a vision of what he’s looking for in a player, and if the player can handle the mental part of the game, the player, Wilson in this case, could have a significant role going forward.
Third-round pick DE Jake Bequette was an extremely productive player at the University of Arkansas. Known in scouting circles as a high-energy player, Bequette won’t wow you with athleticism, but his relentless style of play is hard to miss. The rookie defensive lineman figures to have a chance to win a role as a sub package player when the team uses a 4-3 front.
Sixth-round pick S Nate Ebner, who has good size for the position, joins a crowded depth chart at safety. And Ebner, who has limited playing experience, will have to prove himself on special teams if he wants to seriously push for a roster spot this season. Ebner was an outstanding special teams player at Ohio St., but wasn’t much of a factor on defense. It should also be noted that he did not play football in high school. Instead, Ebner was an avid rugby player in high school.
At least one of their two seventh-round picks, CB Alfonzo Dennard, has a legitimate shot to make the roster this fall. Dennard, who is noted by scouts for his physical style of play, should have been selected much higher. However, because of an alleged off-the-field issue which took place before the draft, he dropped deep into the third day of the draft. Dennard was also limited by a minor hip issue during February’s NFL Combine. If he stays out of trouble, Dennard could reward the Patriots for years to come based on his solid coverage skills. Their final seventh-rounder, WR Jeremy Ebert, is an extreme long shot to make the team due to the overcrowded depth chart at the position.
Give Belichick credit for realizing he needed to address the problems with his defense. And with the added talent at end and linebacker, those issues could be lessened as soon as the regular season progresses.