Draft Analysis - Changing the Patriot Way?
Sunday, April 29, 2012
It’s one thing to say the Patriots did well in the 2012 NFL Draft. But it’s an entirely different story looking at it in reality.
By fortifying the defense through the selections of Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones and Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower in the first round this week, and Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette in the third round, the Patriots certainly made the moves their fans – if not the experts – expected them to make. Of course, only time will tell if these picks will bear ripened – or rotten – fruit. After all, a few years ago, Laurence Maroney’s selection at running back in the first round was widely complimented by fans and analysts alike…and that didn’t turn out well for either side.
So, temper your enthusiasm, Patriots fans. If you want to get excited about something in May…with almost three months to go before training camp actually gets started…perhaps you can take solace in the fact that the “Patriot Way” might be fundamentally changing. At least on the defensive side…and that’s what you can take away from this year’s draft. Slowly, almost grudgingly, New England is changing its’ philosophy.
“Until we actually get out there and start doing it, we’ll see how much versatility we actually do have,” Bill Belichick said after the draft’s conclusion Saturday, with the team selecting three (two defensive) additional players. “I do think that with some of the players we’ve added on the defensive side of the ball, guys have different skills and maybe they will be able to do some different things for us. It’s hard to say exactly what that will be until you actually get them doing it and putting it all together to see how effective we are individually and collectively as a team doing different things, changing things up and how versatile the players are.”
By bringing in players in the 6-4, 6-5 range, and weighing anywhere from 240 to 270 pounds, New England seems to be moving from a base 3-4 “power” defense up front, to more of a quick, athletic and versatile team that can put more pressure on the passer. It’s something fans have hoped for, analysts have criticized, and perhaps, something that coach Belichick has decided he must do in order to win the ultimate prize.
“On paper, I think there’re some possibilities for that,” he said Saturday.
“It seems like every year, the game is getting a little more spread out for us," Belichick added. "We're in nickel defense more and more every year, over 50 percent last year. Some of that is being ahead; some of that is teams in our division. Buffalo, you're pretty much in nickel all day against them. That's two games. It's a high percentage of our defense, so that's part of the reason we feel like we need that (speed and quickness). It's hard to be in our base defense (3-4) as much as we were in the past.”
Six of the seven players selected by the Patriots this year are defensive players. So the need to improve a statistical nightmare from a year ago has been recognized. Size and speed appear to be attributes for all of the new players. If the match-ups become favorable for the Patriots’ defenders this season…and the ultimate prize is once again attainable…perhaps then the storyline for the 2012 Draft will read “job well done.”
But not until.
The Patriots’ three picks on Saturday came by way of another trade with Green Bay – which was the only NFL team statistically worse than the Patriots were on defense last season. Returning pick #163 in the 5th round to the Packers, the Pats picked up a sixth round choice and two seventh rounders, and selected safety Nate Ebner from Ohio State, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard from Nebraska, and receiver Jeremy Ebert from Northwestern…Dennard’s stock dropped rapidly following an arrest last week in Lincoln, NE, but Belichick explained the team performed its due-diligence on him, and came away satisfied…this great nugget from the NFL and ESPN - after allowing an NFL-worst 411.6 yards per game in 2011, the Packers selected defensive players with their first 6 picks of the draft. The Patriots, who finished 31st in yards allowed last season, also drafted defensive players with their first six picks. Green Bay and New England became the first teams since the 2002 Titans and 2002 Colts to draft defensive players with their first six picks of a draft and just the seventh and eighth teams to do so since 1967…there were 27 draft-day trades this year across the NFL, and the Patriots were involved with four of them…