Patriots pull reverse course and trade up for two defensive studs

The Patriots have made a habit in recent years of collecting draft picks and rolling them over year after year like they were an IRA or a mutual fund.  That practice came to an end last night when instead of moving back for more picks the Pats actually moved up in the draft to get players that they targeted.  The change in philosophy makes a lot of sense due to the new NFL draft structure and rookie salary pool.  With all the salaries tied so close together the value of picks have deteriorated,  The old NFL draft value chart made by Jimmy Johnson back in the late 80’s has turned obsolete.  Gone are the days where you can net a 1st round pick in the next draft for someone to move up in the 2nd round.  Belichick and his staff adjusted accordingly and used their own chips as currency to get the players that they wanted.  Here’s a look at the two players that the Patriots drafted:

New Patriots DE Chandler Jones

21st pick overall Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse – Jones is a guy that really flew up the draft boards in recent weeks.  The pick has gotten a lot of publicity but hopefully fans temper their expectations a bit, at least at the outset, because Jones is a bit of a project guy.  He’s at 266 right now but will probably develop into a playing weight of about 280-285 in 2 or 3 years.  That’s when he should really hit his stride as a player.  He’s got 10 sack potential and will be a versatile lineman with the ability to excel against both the run and the pass but he will probably be a work in progress for the first few years.  The Pats are probably going to run a more hybrid scheme this year, mixing the 3-4 in with the 4-3.  I think Jones will see the majority of his action in the 4 man front replacing Mark Anderson in a platoon with another DE, either someone picked today in the 2nd round or a veteran, perhaps even Andre Carter when he is healthy from his knee injury.  Long term Jones will be looked at as a cornerstone for the defensive line that will likely be running primarily out of a 4-3 base defense.  The 3-4 players that the Patriots used in their hey day are pretty much all gone with the exception of Vince Wilfork who can play both schemes anyway.  With the spread offense en vogue in the NFL these days defenses are using a ton of nickel packages and that means 4 down linemen which is why the 3-4 is sort of fading away again.  Jones is a great pick to develop during the transition.  He probably couldn’t have gotten drafted into a better situation, with Bill Belichick and Pepper Johnson and the rest of the defensive staff in New England as good as any in the league at developing defensive players, particularly defensive linemen.  I would give this pick a B+ with the only red flag being that he was a late riser which I am always weary of.  That means that his game film is not as good as some other guys but his workouts were better, which doesn’t always translate to a better player on the field.  However with Belichick and his staff ready to develop him he could not have found himself in a better situation.

 

New Patriots LB Dont'a Hightower

25th pick overall Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama – In a move that should shock no one Belichick moved up in the 1st round again (ok maybe that should shock you) to take a player from a Nick Saban coached defense.  Dont’a Hightower is as versatile a linebacker as they come.  In a 3-4 he is strictly an inside guy but in the 4-3, which I suspect the Patriots will be moving towards, he is a guy that can play all 3 LB spots if need be.  He’s got great size (6’2″, 265 lbs.) and good speed and can move sideline to sideline but can also rush the passer if need be.  I would imagine that the Pats will use a heavy rotation involving Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Rob Ninkovich, and Hightower this season with only Mayo getting more snaps than Hightower.  Brandon Spikes will probably get the most snaps in the middle this season but I can see Hightower playing with Mayo in the nickel packages.  Spikes is good when he is on but he is inconsistent.  I can see Hightower eventually usurping Spikes in the middle if he plays as good as he has the potential to.  Right now I see the guys mixing and matching in spots, Belichick loves to be creative and he can get plenty creative with the top 4 linebackers he has on the field now.  Hightower came from a Nick Saban coached team so he knows what it’s like to be well coached and how to play in a complex scheme.  His transition into the Belichick defense should be smoother than most and he should be ready to contribute right away.  Again this is a good long term pick for the Pats but unlike Jones Hightower will be there on opening day ready to make an impact.  I give this pick an A all things considered.  Hightower is the prototype for a Bill Belichick defense and he possesses a versatility that you don’t often see in a linebacker.

The Pats pick two more times today.  Again a trade UP wouldn’t be out of the question but I can see them trading down with one of their picks to grab a few for Saturday.  Alabama DE/OLB Courtney Upshaw looks mighty intriguing sitting there and there is a good chance that Baltimore will be able to snatch him up here.  The Pats do still need a lot of help in the secondary.  Janoris Jenkins will probably go early 2nd round but the Pats would probably have to move up to the first 2 or 3 picks of the night to get him.  Jenkins is by far the best CB on the board and would have been a 1st rounder if he didn’t have character issues.  The Pats would find a ton of competition if they tried to move up for Jenkins so maybe staying put would be the best option.  Belichick loves picking guys in the 2nd round and has had success in the past few years with Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Spikes among others.  I would expect today to be secondary day as they worked on the front 7 yesterday but don’t rule out another front 7 player or an offensive lineman.

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My AFC East First Half All-Pro Defense

Yesterday was the offense, today is the defense.  Same format, 1 starter for each position (in a 3-4 defense) and 1 back-up on the 2nd team.

Defensive Ends

  • 1st team – Andre Carter, New England Patriots (32 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 FF) – Carter was a great acquisition for the Pats and thus far has outshined big names such as Haynseworth and Ellis.  Carter’s 4.5 sacks is tied for tops among defensive ends in the division.
  • 1st team – Dwan Edwards, Buffalo Bills (34 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 PD) – Edwards, the former Raven, has been a solid force among the Bills new 3-4 D-Line since they signed him back in 2010.  He leads all AFC East DEs in tackles and is a good mentor for young players like Marcell Dareus and Alex Carrington
  • 2nd team – Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets (20 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 1 PD) – Wilkerson has fought off injury to become an effective 3-4 end for the Jets.  His 3 TFL are among the best for AFC East DEs.
  • 2nd team – Mark Anderson, New England Patriots (10 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 1 PD) – Anderson might not have had as many tackles as the rest of the guys on the list but he is tied with teammate Andre Carter with 4.5 sacks.

Defensive Tackles

  • 1st team – Vince Wilfork, New England Patriots (23 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 3 PD, 2 INTs, 1 FF) – Wilfork has been one of the most versatile defenders in football thanks to his two surprise INTs this year.  It doesn’t matter whatever else is going on around him, big Vince is always a force in the middle for the New England defense.
  • 2nd team – Marcell Dareus, Buffalo Bills (24 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 TFL, 1 PD, 1 FF) – Dareus is the first and only rookie named to my All-AFC East team.  He leads all AFCE DTs in sacks with 3.5 and is the Bills best defender against the run on the front line.

Outside Linebackers

  • 1st team – Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins (20 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 2 PD) – People might forget that Wake is still a beast due to him playing on the Dolphins below par defense but Wake is the sack leader for the entire AFC East.  Makes you wonder what he was doing in Canada all those years.
  • 1st team – Calvin Pace, New York Jets (35 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 PD, 1 INT, 2 FF) – Pace does it all for the Jets defense on the outside.  He gets sacks, defends the pass well and is as good as anyone against the run.  He’s the most versatile outside linebacker in the AFC East.
  • 2nd team – Rob Ninkovich, New England Patriots (37 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 PD, 1 FF) – Ninkovich has been a solid starter for the Pats this season with a team LB high for tackles and sacks.  Was rewarded with a contract extension.
  • 2nd team – Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots (33 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 FR) – Despite being injured for parts of the first half of the season Mayo is still a tackle machine for the Pats, even after kicking to the outside this season.

Inside Linebackers

  • 1st team – David Harris, New York Jets (42 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 PD, 2 INTs) – Harris might be the best middle linebacker in the game right now.  Equally strong against the pass and the run, Harris can plug up a hole or cover a tight end if need be.
  • 1st team – Nick Barnett, Buffalo Bills (67 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 3 PD, 2 INTs, 1 FF) – Barnett has been the exact type of versatile linebacker that the Bills envisioned when they signed him to replace the underachieving Paul Posluzny.  One of the few playmakers in the Bills front seven.
  • 2nd team – Bart Scott, New York Jets (39 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 TFL, 1 FF) – The loud talking, hard-hitting Scott has been himself this year, yapping up a storm and racking up tackles.
  • 2nd team – Kevin Burnett, Miami Dolphins (46 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 5 TFL, 1 PD) – The former Charger Burnett beats out Brandon Spikes for the last ILB spot due to his play behind the line of scrimmage.

Cornerbacks

  • 1st team – Darrelle Revis, New York Jets (24 tackles, 12 PD, 4 INTs) – This easiest no-brainer on the board.  The numbers are unreal…12 passes defended through 8 games?  4 INTs already and he is hardly thrown to.  Hands down the best Cornerback in the NFL right now and one of the best ever.
  • 1st team – Kyle Arrington, New England Patriots (43 tackles, 1 TFL, 7 PD, 5 INTs) – Arrington has been inconsistent, as has been pretty much every CB in the division besides Revis, but his ball-hawking skills have served him well as he leads all AFCE players in INTs.
  • 2nd team – Antonio Cromartie, New York Jets (23 tackles, 7 PD, 3 INTs, 1 FF) – Cromartie is one of those infuriating players who struggles at times despite having all the talent in the world.  When he’s on, he’s on.
  • 2nd team – Leodis McKelvin, Buffalo Bills (28 tackles, 6 PD, 1 INT, 1 FR) – McKelvin has been the strongest of a talented but inconsistent group of Bills cornerbacks in the early going.

Strong Safeties

  • 1st team – George Wilson, Buffalo Bills (71 tackles, 2 TFL, 6 PDs, 4 INTs, 1 FF) – The former undrafted wide receiver has been playing at an unbelievably high level this season.  Like teammate Fred Jackson, an example of what happens when hard work and lots of heart pays off.
  • 2nd team – Yeremiah Bell, Miami Dolphins (64 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PD, 1 FR) – Bell has been one of the few bright spots on the Miami defense.  He’s their most consistent guy in the defensive backfield.

Free Safeties

  • 1st team – Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills (56 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 5 PD, 2 INTs, 1 FF, 1 FR) – Byrd has shaken off a sophomore slump to become one of the most complete safeties in the entire league.  Byrd, who struggled against the run in his rookie season, has become a force in the Bills run defense and is getting a reputation for being a big hitter.
  • 2nd team – Patrick Chung, New England Patriots (55 tackles, 1 sack, 4 PD, 1 INT) – There is no sophomore slump for Chung who has been the most consistent defender in the Pats defensive backfield.

Punters

  • 1st team – Brandon Fields, Miami Dolphins (48.6 avg., 40.7 net, 17 IN20, 70 long) – Fields may have been getting a lot of work in the first half of the season but at least he is making it count.  He has the highest net, the longest punt, and the most pins inside the 20 in the division.
  • 2nd team – Brian Moorman, Buffalo Bills (49.5 avg., 38.5 net, 9 IN20, 66 long) – This was a dog fight with Zoltan Mesko but Moorman has Mesko in everything but the net avg. so the Bills vet gets the nod.

Twitter @ErikVenskus