New England Patriots: Bill Belichick Keeps Fans Guessing in 2012 NFL Draft
In one of the most highly analyzed and highly anticipated drafts in recent memory for the New England Patriots, the team made a series of moves that nobody saw coming.
The Patriots, so often the conservative bunch on draft night, eager to collect several good picks instead of landing that a single great one, went on the aggressive. They were assertive. They saw what they wanted, and they went out and got it.
New England traded up. Twice. Once from 27th to 21st, then shortly thereafter from 31st to 25th. To get an idea of how rare that is, imagine it snowing in Arizona in July. Now imagine it happening again.
In making those moves, Bill Belichick proved that he can't be painted into a corner. The Patriots coach has his tendencies, sure, but he's willing to change his style when the situation calls for it.
We thought we had the draft day version of Belichick figured out. Instead, we're mulling over several new facts we've learned about the hoodie.
We learned that Belichick can trade up. For the first time since 2003, when the Patriots last moved up in the draft, Belichick treated the draft like a night he's been looking forward to for months. He had targets, players who he wanted to see in a Patriots uniform. When it looked like they'd be going early, he acted accordingly.
Belichick lost a third-rounder to the Cincinnati Bengals to move up from No. 27 to 21, and a fourth-rounder to the Denver Broncos to go from 31st to 25th. Those are value picks, the kind Belichick has treasured throughout the years. Last night, they were trade bait, merely pieces of the coach's larger, overarching strategy.
We learned that Belichick can take a pass-rusher. As glaring a weakness as getting after the quarterback has been for years, the Patriots have been reluctant to address it with high picks.
They've taken offensive linemen, they've taken defensive linemen, they've taken defensive backs and they've taken running backs. The pass-rusher was always on the back burner, a problem to be addressed via the free agency scrap heap.
Yesterday, the Patriots treated their biggest weakness like their biggest weakness. They took Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones, a prospect with big-time upside who, although raw, could develop into a star within the next few years.
They followed that up by taking Alabama's Dont'a Hightower, who, while technically an inside linebacker, has the skill set and motor to play anywhere within the linebacker corps.
We learned that Belichick sometimes sees what we see. The coach appeared to be taking requests from the fans in this one. There was no out-of-nowhere pick, the name that leaves the fans watching on puzzled and forces Chris Berman, Jon Gruden and Mel Kiper, Jr. to make up a scouting report on the fly.
This time, the Patriots were on board with the fans shouting names at them through their TV screens. Jones was one of the best pass-rushers available. New England got him. Hightower was one of the best linebackers available. New England got him.
In the end, there was that rare mutual appreciation. Belichick had the draft he wanted, and so did the fans.
For all that we learned last night, those facts just affirmed the one we figured out years ago. You can't predict Belichick, regardless of where you think he'll go. He's aggressive when he's supposed to be conservative, and passive when he should be on the attack. Just like always.
The second and third rounds remain. There's no telling what Belichick will do. But mark it down, it'll be something surprising.
After all, that's what we've come to expect.
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