Published April 30, 2012
| Sports Network
1 - Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse (6-5, 266); 1 - Donta Hightower, LB, Alabama (6-2, 265); 2 - Tavon Wilson, S, Illinois (5-11, 205); 3 - Jake Bequette, OLB, Arkansas (6-5, 274); 6 - Nate Ebner, S, Ohio State (6-0, 202); 7 - Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska (5-10, 204); 7 - Jeremy Ebert, WR, Northwestern (5-11, 200)
Top Picks Analysis: It was hardly surprising that the Patriots were intent on upgrading the talent level on a defense that was littered with castoffs and overachievers this past season, but their uncharacteristically aggressive approach to the draft was something few saw coming. New England traded up twice in the first round to acquire Jones and Hightower, both of whom will be counted on to bring a spark to a transitioning pass rush right off the bat. Though Jones wasn't dominant in that area as a collegian, having recorded only 10 sacks in three years at Syracuse, he's regarded as a player whose best football is ahead of him and has the size, wingspan and athleticism teams crave in an all-around end. Hightower played mostly inside in Bill Belichick disciple Nick Saban's 3-4 arrangement at Alabama, but the Patriots may plan to use the imposing linebacker to fill a more glaring need as a stand-up outside rusher, an skill that he demonstrated proficiency in with the Crimson Tide. Like Jones, Wilson was a late riser following an excellent Pro Day performance and has experience at both corner and safety, though he wasn't a distinguished player in college and was generally viewed as a third-day selection. Bequette also brings versatility to the table as an end/outside linebacker hybrid who can drop into coverage, but isn't a dynamic pass rusher and has athletic limitations.
Best Value Pick: Dennard began the workout circuit as a potential second- rounder before witnessing his stock spiral after a so-so combine and getting arrested for an alleged altercation with a police officer a week before the draft. As an instinctive cornerback with a confident and physical demeanor, he could be a real steal in the seventh round, however.
Questionable Calls: Wilson was a major reach at the 48th overall selection as a safety with suspect range who wasn't much of a ball-hawk at Illinois. Though New England was wise to concentrate on defense, a young receiver that can get down the field vertically would have been a worthwhile investment in either the second or third round.
Summary: Jones and Wilson do come with some questions, but the Patriots did a solid job of restocking the defense with a few players that fit the team's profile. If the first-rounders can live up to their high status and Dennard pans out, this draft will qualify as a success.
Final Grade: B-