A solid 2012 draft class would really help the Patriots get another crack at the Super Bowl.
With six selections, the New England Patriots weren't the big-time chip holders they typically are headed into the 2012 NFL Draft, but they were movers and shakers no less than they usually are, moving up and down the board at different points in the draft.
If you were keeping along here, you didn't missed a tick. In case you weren't, though, all the info is still here for you to catch up on. We were following along with all the news on the Patriots draft selections, trades and all the moves as they go down.
Click through for scouting reports, reactions and grades for all of the Patriots moves in the draft.
The Patriots traded up. For real.
If nothing else, that alone should say a lot about how strongly they feel about Chandler Jones in their defense.
The question with Jones was whether or not he projects as a perfect fit for the Patriots 3-4 defensive front, but his selection says that it doesn't matter, because the Patriots will find a way to get him onto the field.
He drew comparison to Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora; B/R NFL draft guru Matt Miller pointed out he also needed to work on his ability to stop the run, but that his skill set is similar and his upside is high.
This from Wes Bunting of National Football Post:
I love his size and length. But I worry about defensive lineman who play upright, lack a great get off burst and struggle to change directions. I don't see him as a big time pass rusher. But if he improves his pad level he could mature into a potential starting option.
For an even more complete scouting report on Jones, click here.
Pick grade: A-
This pick was the first domino to fall that indicates the Patriots will work with more of a 4-3 defensive front in 2012.
The move up was rather uncharacteristic, but Jones had high regards from many scouts as one of the best pass rushers in the draft. To get a player of that caliber for the cheap price the Patriots were able to get him for his a solid move.
The Patriots traded up. Again.
This time, it was to tap into the Nick Saban pipeline to grab Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower.
The connection is there, but this was somewhat of a surprise pick because it's not a position of strong need for the Patriots.
He's drawn comparison to 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman, whom Matt Miller says shares versatility with the Alabama product. Most importantly among Miller's assessment, Hightower is a three-down linebacker.
This from Wes Bunting of National Football Post:
Looks like a potential impact caliber 34-inside linebacker who has the skill set to win inside vs. the run and create pressure on third down as a savvy rush guy as well.
Thus, that appears to be the consensus on Hightower: a jack of all trades for the Patriots front seven who can rush the passer, stop the run and cover.
Click here for a more complete scouting report on Hightower.
Pick grade: B+
Inside linebacker isn't exactly a position of need for the Patriots, and Dont'a Hightower reminds me a little bit of Brandon Spikes. He'll compete for the spot at strong side linebacker, currently occupied by Rob Ninkovich.
Hightower is a smart, instinctive and athletic linebacker. Whether the Patriots are running a 3-4 or a 4-3, they can use a guy like Hightower who has the skills to play on all three downs and contribute in any role they can think to put him in.
Here's your, "who?" pick, Patriots fans.
The Patriots needed a safety, but Wilson wasn't a name most fans had in mind. He's not listed on Mike Mayock's top 100, nor is he listed on James Christensen's.
I got started looking up the info on him right away, but this tweet was a scary omen from Greg Bedard of The Boston Globe:
Even @Ourlads_Shonka had him as his last rated draftable free safety. No bio. Just a rating— Greg A. Bedard (@GregABedard) April 28, 2012
The same goes for CBS Sports, which ranked him the 212th prospect in this year's class.
Still, I managed to dig up some info on him as a prospect. Wes Bunting of National Football Post calls him, "A thick framed kid with some natural power," but says, "his lacking closing gear shows up in both the run and pass game."
B/R's scouting report says that he, "is not likely to contribute past special teams early on and is a likely role player."
He was an All-Big 10 Honorable Mention, not exactly a title of prestige but better than nothing?
Pick grade: D+
I know the "could have been had much later" game is a tough one to play during the NFL draft, but there was absolutely no indication that the Illinois safety would be off the board any earlier than the fourth round.
CBS Sports has a sixth to seventh round grade on Wilson.
A definite position of need, but a huge surprise no less.
If nothing else, he has good genes. His great-great-grandmother, Edith, is older than the leagueitself at 112 years old.
"There has been a trade..."
Fans of the Patriots were expecting to hear these words much earlier than the 62nd overall pick, but Bill Belichick hoodwinked us all with two trade-ups.
The most surprising thing is, they didn't get quite the haul many might have expected, and actually got ripped off on the draft pick value chart.
No. 62 is worth 284 points; Nos. 90 and 163 add up to just 171.6.
They only added the 90th and 163rd overall picks in the draft, but the team felt that it needed a selection in the fifth round and didn't like the value of the players on the board.
Trade grade: B-
With three additions to the front seven, the Patriots clearly felt they needed to get better up front. The Patriots have officially double-dipped on defensive ends. New Englanders are shocked.
Bequette has an interesting frame for a Bill Belichick defense, at 6'5" and 274 pounds, he's a little bigger than they might like at outside linebacker.
He registered 10 sacks and five forced fumbles as a senior, yet still gets knocked somewhat for lack of pass rush skills. He may start off as a situational player. That being said, he could work his way into a bigger role according to Wes Bunting of National Football Post.
Not a special athlete, more of a savvy power player, but works hard rushing the pocket, has a great motor and can play the run. A rotational guy early on who has the ability to earn a starting role, but looks more like a rotational guy.
There was a lot of buzz during the 2011 offseason that the Patriots could potentially target defensive end/outside linebacker Matt Roth as a free agent. It's ironic, in that sense, that the Patriots took Bequette, who NFL editor Michael Schottey compares to Roth because he's "the classic try-hard defensive end" and because he's "not a great athlete, but good at setting the edge against the run."
Pick grade: B+
He may not be a very athletic guy, but he has an excellent motor and will put in the work off the field because he loves the game of football. He can do enough to get on the field, and will do more than enough off the field to make up for it, so he's a classic Patriots pick.
But the Patriots didn't need another Rob Ninkovich, and Bequette is a bit of a project at the 3-4 outside linebacker position. He'll be used to his strengths, but it could be a bit before he's ready to contribute on a regular basis.
Twice in the NFL draft, the Patriots have had just one pick left. Both times, they have parlayed the pick into multiple picks.
Thus, you can see why I chose to use this video in the slideshow.
This time, the Patriots added three picks in exchange for one. The Patriots will get to make their token sixth and seventh round flier picks after all. They have been able to find value in those rounds in the past, and the Patriots clearly like the depth that's available on the board.
Trade grade: A
The Patriots took a page out of the Jets book by grabbing a former rugby player to come play in the NFL. The only difference is Nate Ebner actually has football experience at a respected program at Ohio State.
He'll look to bring that rugby mentality to the secondary for the Patriots.
Ebner was a walk-on at Ohio State, earning a spot on the team and the respect of his teammates by contributing on special teams. He didn't start a single football game at the high school level, and has some work to do in terms of learning the ropes of the football field, but no one will ever question his toughness or his determination.
This quote from the Cleveland Plain Dealer tends to give some insight into his hard-hitting mentality:
I'm giving football my 100 percent. I don't want to say, 'If I wasn't messing around with rugby, what would have happened?' It's football all the way, and if that doesn't work out, I'm definitely playing rugby somewhere if I'm not playing football. But I'm going to be hitting people with my body as long as it can take it.
This from Pro Football Weekly:
Races down the field like a bat out of hell and hunts returners like a heat-seeking missile. ...Square-jawed, mentally tough, competitive overachiever with a wedge buster’s mentality (relishes contact) who will be given the opportunity to carve a niche as a special-teams demon. Has leadership traits and is the type you root for.
Sounds like a prototypical Belichick pick if you ask me.
Pick grade: B
The football skills may not be polished yet, but the Patriots picked up a kid who is as hard a worker as anyone, and who can fight for a roster spot on special teams. You can't ask for much more out of a sixth-round pick than that.
Dennard's stock dipped drastically when he got arrested for assaulting a police officer on April 21. He was projected by many to be a third-round pick leading up to the draft, but made it all the way to the seventh round because of his error.
In comparing Dennard to cornerback Charles Tillman, Matt Miller says the Nebraska product is, "a very stout slot cornerback who's best in press coverage. We also like Dennard playing in zone coverage where he's not asked to run at depth with wide receivers."
Wes Bunting had Dennard as his 10th-ranked cornerback before the draft, and says of the Nebraska product:
He's strong/feisty, can press off the line and turn and run. Needs to clean up some technical flaws both in press and off the line, which hinders his balance. But can be a guy who could start both on the outside and in the slot at the next level.
The details of the arrest, for those of you who are curious, via Omaha.com:
Lincoln police said Dennard, 22, was fighting with another man outside a bar near 14th and O Streets about 2:15 a.m. When officers attempted to intervene, police said, Dennard allegedly pushed and then punched one officer in the face. It took four police officers to take Dennard into custody, according to police.
For more scouting analysis on Dennard, click here.
Pick grade: A
The Patriots got their selection cards backwards; they must have meant to draft Tavon Wilson in the seventh round and Dennard in the second. All jokes aside, this is a tremendous value pick for the Patriots.
Dennard was projected as a second or third round pick before his arrest. So, if he can stay out of trouble, he has upside as a No. 2 cornerback in the NFL. For a seventh-round pick, this is a no-risk, possible high-reward selection.
At the risk of being too predictable, the Patriots decided to take their first offensive player of the draft.
They now add to a wide receiving corps that reads 11 names long.
In ways, Ebert will remind many Patriots followers of current wide receiver Wes Welker.
James Christensen of NEPatriotsDraft.com is very familiar with Ebert, and has rave reviews about his production and athleticism.
Ebert is [a] highly productive slot receiver who everyone will inevitably compare to Wes Welker. Ebert caught 75 passes his senior year for 1060 yards and 11 touchdowns. He caught 62 for 953 his junior year with 8 touchdowns. Ebert showed his speed at his pro day running a 4.38 40 time, with a 4.15 short shuttle and 6.70 3 cone. All of those times are extremely solid for a WR. Ebert is 5’11 200 pounds.
Pro Football Weekly says Ebert is a, "productive, competitive, relatively monotone slot receiver lacking exceptional athletic traits," and adds that he, "needs room to operate and will have to stand out on special teams to stick."
In that sense, this pick is a little bit of a head-scratcher. Christensen adds, "If you were looking for a return man, Ebert isn’t that. He only returned five kickoffs for 88 yards during his career."
Pick grade: C+
The Patriots have a great deal of depth at wide receiver, but most of them are over 30, on a one-year deal or some combination of the two. If they were going to target a wide receiver, though, Ebert is a questionable call. With such a similar skill set to both Welker and Edelman, Ebert's role and impact on the team are tough to project. It would be a little bit easier to understand if he could contribute on special teams.
Patriots pre-draft needs: WR, DE, DT, LB, S
First Round, Pick 21: Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse
Jones has the frame to be a beast in the NFL, even if the framework is a little bare at this point. He'll need to spend a couple of years cutting his teeth in the NFL, but his upside is tremendous as a pass rusher and he even earned the "best pass rusher in the draft" stamp from both Mike Mayock and Michael Lombardi of NFL Network.
First Round, Pick 25: Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama
Versatile linebackers are extremely valuable for Bill Belichick, and while Hightower bears some resemblance to Brandon Spikes, he gives them quite a bit more versatility just in their personnel groupings and where they can line up. Should be a solid addition, and a day one starter.
Second Round, Pick 48: Tavon Wilson, S, Illinois
A lot earlier than expected, Wilson is a safety not a lot of people know about; this was a position of need for the Patriots, and while he could live up to his second round billing, that seems like a long way to come from where he was at Illinois.
Third Round, Pick 90: Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas
If you had uttered the words "SEC pass rusher" to a Patriots fan before the draft, they might have begun foaming at the mouth. Bequette
Sixth Round, Pick 197: Nate Ebner, DB, Ohio State
After reading scouting reports and reviews on Ebner's play, toughness is the first word that comes to mind. He played rugby, and loves hitting people. He can contribute on special teams even if he can't find a spot on the defense at the beginning of his career.
Seventh Round, Pick 224: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
A player with a second or third round grade doesn't often fall to the seventh round, but when he does, you can almost guarantee Bill Belichick will be the one to draft him. If he can straighten up, he could be a No. 2 cornerback for the team. If he can't straighten up, the team only used a seventh round pick on him.
Seventh Round, Pick 235: Jeremy Ebert, WR, Northwestern
Ebert is a Welker-Edelman clone. With that said, is there enough room for him to get on the field? Even if not, it was only a seventh-round pick, but the team could have perhaps targeted a taller, or more vertical wide receiver.
Overall Draft Grade: A