NFL Draft: Patriots Focus On Defense

The New England Patriots had a woeful defense in 2011, and that didn't sit well with Bill Belichick. To fix the problem, the Patriots head coach went after guys he really liked in the first round by trading up to go get them.

Patriots targeted versatile Jones, Hightower

Bill Belichick has frustrated New England fans in recent years by trading down and out of the first round with regularity. But that all changed Thursday night as Belichick made deals with both of his first-round selections -- scheduled to be at 27 and 31 overall -- moved up twice and selected Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones and Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower.

"I thought we had a good day today," Belichick told reporters immediately following the conclusion of the first round. "As usual, the draft always takes some interesting twists and turns. You just never know how it's going to go."

The first move saw the Patriots send the 27th and 93rd picks in this year's draft to the Bengals for the No. 21 selection that it would use to take Jones. Jones is an athletic end with the ability to play in both the 4-3, as he did as an end for the Orange, as well as the 3-4. He has the length that Belichick covets on the edge of his defensive front -- Jones is 6-5, 266 pounds and has 35.5-inch arms.

Though Jones only had 10 sacks in his Syracuse career before leaving after his junior season -- having missed five games last fall with a knee injury -- many believe he has the potential to develop into one of the best defensive players from the 2012 draft class.

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He comes from an extremely athletic family. His brothers are current UFC champion Jon "Bones" Jones and Ravens defensive tackle Arthur Jones.

"Chandler's a little younger, has a little less experience, but a very talented player," Belichick said of the first of his two picks. "Smart guy, works hard, did a good job against some quality players."

After taking Jones, New England sent the 31st selection and the 126th pick to the Broncos to move up to 25 to take Hightower.

Hightower is a versatile linebacker who can play all the spots at linebacker in both a 4-3 and 3-4, and also served as a rush end in nickel situations at Alabama. His versatility is clearly his most impressive trait.

"Hightower's been in a great program for a great coach (Nick Saban), won a couple of national championships, been the signal-caller for that defense," Belichick said. "He played middle linebacker, inside linebacker off the line for Alabama in their base defense and nickel, but he also played defensive end in their nickel, opposite (Courtney) Upshaw. He rarely came off the field, defensively.

"Both players have some versatility we can work with."

Jones will be the one with the biggest job to do. As a rare pass rusher that Belichick not only took in the first round, but traded up to acquire, Jones will be expected to contribute to the edge of the defense for a unit that ranked 31st in the NFL a year ago.

Jones likely added to those expectations when he was asked which NFL players he modeled his game after. His response?

"Julius Peppers and Aldon Smith," Jones told reporters.

If the Patriots get production from Jones similar to anything either of those two players have done in their time in the NFL, Thursday's first round of the draft will go down as much more than a "good day" for New England.

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