Patriots movin' on up in first round of NFL draft
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -- The New England Patriots traded up twice in the first round of the NFL draft to add a couple of players to the defense that allowed the New York Giants to march down the field for the winning score in the Super Bowl.
The Patriots sent the No. 27 overall pick, which they'd obtained in a deal with New Orleans, and a third-rounder to Cincinnati for the 21st pick and used it to take Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones. Then they traded the No. 31 pick to Denver with a fourth-rounder for the No. 25 pick they used to take Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower.
"As usual, the draft always takes some interesting twists and turns," coach Bill Belichick said Thursday night after the NFL wrapped up the first round of the draft. "You just never know how it's going to go."
The trades left New England with two second-round picks -- 48th and 62nd overall -- and nothing in the five rounds after that.
"As the players came off the board, we were able to execute a couple trades there and still hang onto our two second round picks," Belichick said. "I thought if we moved up I wasn't sure that we would be able to do that, but it worked out that way."
Despite winning the AFC title and reaching the Super Bowl for the fifth time in 11 years, the Patriots defense allowed the second-most yards overall and in pass defense last season. The problems were never more apparent than in the Super Bowl, when Eli Manning drove the New York Giants 88 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
Jones and Hightower could be a big help.
Hightower, who is 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, played for Belichick buddy Nick Saban on Alabama teams that won the NCAA championship twice in the past three years. He was a leader of the unit that led the nation in rushing defense, allowing 72 yards per game, and total defense (183 yards per game).
Hightower, 22, was a finalist for the Bednarik, Butkus and Lombardi awards and a first-team All-America selection.
"Hightower has been in a great program for a great coach," Belichick said. "They won a couple of national championships and (he) has been the signal caller, leader of that defense."
Both he and Jones are considered versatile players who can fit into a variety of defensive systems.
"I'm going to get to the ball and I'm going to make plays," said Hightower, who had 40 tackles and 45 assists to go with four sacks as a senior last year. "Regardless of whether it's a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense."
The Patriots scouted both of them at the NFL combine. When they were in Indianapolis, Jones and Hightower met and fantasized about winding up on the same team -- even though it was unlikely for the two potential first-round picks.
"It actually happened," said Jones, who is 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds. "So I can't wait to see him tomorrow."
Jones, 22, was an All-Big East selection as a senior who had 38 tackles, 30 of them solo, and led the team with 4.5 sacks. He was the conference's defensive player of the week after recording six solo tackles, including two sacks for a loss of 19 yards, against West Virginia on Oct. 21.
Jones' brother is Jon "Bones" Jones, a mixed martial arts fighter. Another brother, Arthur, is a defensive end for the Baltimore Ravens.
"Arthur has taught me a lot going through this whole draft process," Chandler Jones said. "He was basically telling me that the way I carry myself off the field, I'm not just representing myself, I'm representing the organization. I feel like having a brother that's in the NFL is a great advantage."