Re-Drafting New England Patriots' 2012 Draft After First Half of NFL Season
Stew Milne-US PRESSWIRE
However, some names have certainly shined brighter than others through the midway mark in the season.
So the question is, how did the Patriots fare in April's draft? Would head coach Bill Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio change any of their war-room decisions?
Hindsight is 20-20, and consequently, it's time to re-draft New England's most recent picks.
Round 1, Pick 21: Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse
Sam Bradford, meet Chandler Jones.
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The Patriots won't regret trading up to nab the long-armed Chandler Jones at pick 21 of the first round.
Through eight games, Jones has amassed 33 tackles, six sacks and three forced fumbles. He's given every left tackle a tough time, as he swings around the edge looking to strip-sack opposing quarterbacks.
At the time, the Orangeman was a questionable selection, because he never had more than 4.5 sacks in a season. But now in November, there's no doubt that New England's selection was the right one.
In comparison to other pass-rushers drafted in the end of Round 1, Jones has them beat by a significant margin. Illinois's Whitney Mercilus has posted 12 tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles for the Houston Texans. And USC's Nick Perry has made 18 tackles with two sacks for the Green Bay Packers.
The Patriots got a defensive end built for both the future and the present.
Round 1, Pick 25: Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama
Hightower has been as good as advertised.
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The decision to trade up—again—was the right one for New England. That's because Alabama's Dont'a Hightower has cemented the Patriots' talented and athletic linebacker corps next to Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo.
Hightower has proven to be NFL-ready, as he's collected 25 tackles, two sacks, a fumble recovery and a touchdown at starting strong-side backer.
And seeing as how the Crimson Tide product has missed two contests with a hamstring injury, those numbers are even more impressive.
By drafting Hightower, the Patriots missed the boat on Wisconsin offensive guard Kevin Zeitler, Notre Dame free safety Harrison Smith, as well as Illinois wideout A.J. Jenkins. However, the reward was worth the sacrifice.
Round 2, Pick 48: Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt
Casey Hayward was on the draft board for far too long.
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With the 48th pick of April's draft, the Patriots reached for unknown defensive back Tavon Wilson from Illinois. Wilson has turned many heads this season for his playmaking abilities, although he would have been available much later on in the draft.
That's where Vanderbilt cornerback Casey Hayward comes into the frame.
Following his selection, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock vetted the pick:
"He's one of the most instinctive corners in this draft. After Morris Claiborne, Hayward has the best ball skills of any of the corners in this draft. I love this pick for the Packers."
The Patriots have struggled in pass coverage over the last couple of years. Hayward would have been a piece to address the puzzle.
Round 3, Pick 90: Chris Givens, WR, Wake Forest
Chris Givens has the ability to make people miss.
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With pick No. 90 of the NFL draft, the Patriots chose Arkansas sack machine Jake Bequette. Bequette, while not overly athletic, totaled 23 sacks in four seasons with the Razorbacks.
Unfortunately, Bequette's pressure has not been showcased and the 23-year-old is taking a back seat along the defensive line. On the year, he has played in two games and tallied no tackles.
It's too early to call the Bequette pick a waste, but other available options are producing right now. Case in point, wide receiver Chris Givens.
Givens, a speedy pass-catcher out of Wake Forest, fell to the St. Louis Rams with the first choice in the fourth round. So far in his rookie campaign, Givens has made the most of his reps, catching 13 balls for a staggering 333 yards and two scores. Yes, that is an average of over 25 yards per reception.
Givens would have offered the Patriots youth at the wide receiver position. After all, Deion Branch, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd are all over age 30.
In addition, he could have filled a role as the team's kick returner, since he has returned six kicks for 152 yards with the Rams.
Round 6, Pick 197: Tavon Wilson, S, Illinois
Tavon Wilson is not afraid to step up when the ball is closing in.
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New England's second-round selection was a real head-scratcher. When Patriot legend Troy Brown announced the name "Tavon Wilson" at the Radio City Music Hall, many responded with "Who?"
ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss explained Wilson's pre-draft value in an article published on April 28:
The 22-year-old Wilson was rated as the 24th safety by ESPN's Scouts Inc., considered more of a free agent than a draft pick. He wasn't mentioned in the 2012 Pro Football Weekly draft preview. USA Today's NFL draft preview overlooked him. So did Lindy's Pro Football Draft magazine.
Sometimes scouting reports don't do a player justice. After all, the Illinois defensive back has played like a second-round talent, notching 28 tackles, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
Wilson was thrust into the starting rotation after injuries kept safeties Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory out of action. Although, the former special teams gunner and cornerback may not be ready for full-time duties just yet, as he has given up some big pass plays.
The unheralded DB is loaded with potential and has room to grow in the New England secondary. But the bottom line is that the Patriots could have probably called his name in Round 6 and no one would have blinked.
Instead, the Patriots selected another mystery at pick No. 197: Nate Ebner.
Ebner, a special teams defensive back, flew in under the radar. Per the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises, Ebner said the following prior to the draft:
"Did I think I'd be in a position to get drafted?" Ebner said. "No way. But to possibly play on a pro team? I'd like to say that was always maybe the goal, but I didn't know how realistic it was until this past year."
Round 7, Pick 224: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
Alfonzo Dennard has been a steal for the Patriots.
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Alfonzo Dennard was a top-round draft talent who fell because of off-the-field troubles right before the draft.
Those troubles, however, were not enough to scare the Patriots away from the Nebraska corner in Round 7.
After nursing a hamstring injury through the first four games of the year, Dennard made his season debut against the Denver Broncos in Week 5 and held his receivers catch-less. Since then, his playing time has risen and his coverage has looked solid.
Through the halfway point in the 2012 season, Dennard's value has spiked. For the Patriots, the risk has paid off since the feisty defensive back has had his hand in three pass break-ups, two interceptions and 11 tackles.
NESN.com's Doug Kyed analyzed what the future holds for the former Cornhusker:
If Dennard can get his head on straight and stay away from pesky injuries, he could be one of the biggest steals in the 2012 draft. The Patriots essentially got a second-round value with one of their last picks.
Most seventh-round picks are cut-down casualties. That's not the case with Dennard.
Round 7, Pick 235: Nate Ebner, S, Ohio State
Ebner has stood out from the shadows.
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Having played just a handful of snaps on defense for the Ohio State Buckeyes, special teams defensive back Nate Ebner was a secret leading up to the draft.
However, as a former rugby standout, Ebner's grit caught the eye of former Patriots linebacker and Ohio State assistant coach Mike Vrabel. As a result, the Patriots chose the 6'0", 210-pound tackler in the sixth round.
That being said, New England could have drafted Ebner in the end of the seventh round just as easily. Ebner is still learning the game, as he didn't play a down of high school football. He's raw in coverage, but his willingness to do whatever it takes is why he made the final roster.
A former walk-on in Columbus, Ohio, Ebner is no stranger to working his way up. He has done just that with the Patriots, playing special teams and even some safety in times of need.
Through eight games, Ebner has registered seven tackles.
While Ebner would have likely been waiting for a phone call in the final round of the draft, the team went ahead and drafted Northwestern wide receiver Jeremy Ebert at pick No. 235.
Ebert's tenure with the Patriots was short-lived. According to ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss, the seventh-rounder was the first and only New England draft pick to be cut on Aug. 31.