April 27, 2012
Belichick For The Defense: Trading Up For A Change
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- Number two offense, number 31 defense. For the defense, that can be loosely translated as "need".
But Bill Belichick prefers the word "value". Year after year, the Patriots trade down and always plan for next year's draft instead of this year's. Belichick then takes the best value or the best tight end available while fans sit back and wonder if Belichick even respects the draft and what it offers. Trying to predict Belichick and his draft behaviour is foolhardy; you have a better chance of hitting the lottery rather than getting the Patriot draft board nailed.
Belichick turned out to be unpredictable again in 2012. The last time the Patriots traded up in the first round, it was in 2003 when they moved up to take Ty Warren out of Texas A&M. On Thursday night, Belichick shocked the football world by trading up not once, but twice in the 2012 NFL Draft. Making as emphatic a statement as could possibly be made, Belichick added two very important component parts to the second worst defense in the league, and one has to wonder what was the real impetus behind this most unusual organizational move.
The Patriots had picks number 27 and 31 in the draft to begin with. Just after Chicago snitched a possible Patriot target, Boise State DE Shea McClellin, reports came in that the Patriots had just traded up to 21 with Cincinnati. The Patriots sent the Bengals their number 27 pick plus a third round pick (93rd overall), and used that pick to select Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones, another popular target with draft experts like McClellin. The first round, which was completed in a record three hours exactly, went at such a dizzying pace that at several times NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was three picks behind in his announcing the picks. When the Patriots acquired this pick, they almost immediately selected Jones.
A bit later, the Patriots struck again. They sent the 31st pick along with a fourth round pick (number 126) to Denver in return for the Broncos' first round selection at 25. Moving swiftly once again, Belichick used that pick to select Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower. The trades left the Patriots with only two second round picks remaining on their draft board, so the Patriots could be all done with things on Friday unless other trades come up.
Both Jones and Hightower are fast and versatile, and should bring a quick upgrade in the Patriot pass rush. With the departure of Mark Anderson as a free agent and the uncertain status of Andre Carter, these two draftees will be a welcome addition to the Patriots this fall. One area the Patriots have been dearly lacking in over the years has been a fearsome pass rush, which would take a lot of pressure off of a mediocre to fair secondary and help cut down on the passing yardage allowed.
Jones, who is not the first defensive player the Patriots have taken from Syracuse named Jones (Tebucky), is smallish for a down lineman at 247 pounds (he is 6'5"). But he has freakishly long arms and good edge speed. He can cover lots of ground quickly and can give slower tackles fits. He also can adjust well in pass coverage, his long strides helping him to show pass rush and then quickly drop back to cover a running back or a tight end.
Hightower is an inside backer who will bring pressure up the middle. Like Jones, he has long arms which will help him shed blocks and clog up the middle. With his speed, Belichick will likely ask him to pressure the quarterback rather than to stop the run. It also opens up the possibility for him to tie up blockers so that Jerod Mayo can become more of a playmaker in the middle. Being from Alabama, Belichick likely looked to his old friend Nick Saban for an endorsement.
What will be scrutinized over the days and weeks to come will be the fact that Belichick twice traded up in the first round, literally sacrificing the back end of his draft. Normally, Belichick loves to trade down and stockpile draft picks for future drafts. But this strategy was off the charts when compared to other drafts of the Belichick era.
One might wonder how much influence Bob Kraft had in this draft strategy, rather than Belichick finally seeing talent he coveted which might not have fallen to 27 and 31 and deciding to go for it. Following the Super Bowl loss to the Giants in February, Kraft was quoted as saying "I look forward to using our draft choices this year!" It seemed like a subliminal message being sent to Belichick: Use the picks this year, and for once, quit this trading down jazz.
Of course, you may all remember the last time that Kraft had a hand in the draft. In 1996, Kraft overruled Bill Parcells, ordering him to take Ohio State WR Terry Glenn instead of Texas DE Tony Brackens. Brackens went to Jacksonville, and both the Patriots and Jaguars wound up in that season's AFC Championship Game. But Parcells quit the Patriots that year, saying that "If you are going to prepare the meal, you have to be able to shop for the groceries."
Kraft had another minor misstep two years later, when he and Bobby Grier and Pete Carroll took the other Jones from Syracuse and passed on North Carolina DE Vonnie Holliday (who is still active in the NFL). He defended Jones as being a terrific "press corner"; though Tebucky would later earn a ring for the Patriots as a free safety, all Patriot Nation went to their football dictionaries to find out what a "press corner" was.
When Belichick took over the helm of the Patriots' on-field operations in 2000, Kraft stayed out of the way and wound up having to find room for three Vince Lombardi Trophies in their case. With the defense having dropped off considerably in the years since the Patriots last won a Super Bowl, and given that Belichick is still operating without a defensive coordinator, one has to wonder if Kraft took Belichick aside and strongly urged him to go defense with these two first round picks. It is possible that Belichick went along with the gag only because of who was available and that they were within reach, but the trade-up strategy is indeed an extraordinary departure from how Belichick normally operates in the War Room.
The Patriots have two selections in Friday's second round, at number 48 (from Oakland) and number 62. They could merely make those two picks and be on their way. Or they could trade one or both of them down and pick up a few picks for Saturday. It almost doesn't matter. With two defensive studs joining the Patriots this fall, what the Patriots do on Friday is more interesting than it is earth-shattering. The Patriots might go for cornerback help, or maybe beef up the offensive line.
But Jones and Hightower are the new Mayo and Spikes. And hopefully, if Eli Manning comes up again as a Super Bowl opponent, it will be the Giants that come up three points short this time.
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