Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots spent the majority of the 2012 NFL draft focused on improving 2011's league-worst defense.
The Patriots used six of their seven picks over the weekend on
defensive players, in fact, including two of three selections on
After trading their fifth-round selection, 163rd overall, to the Green Bay Packers in exchange for a sixth, 197th overall, and two
seventh-rounders, 224th and 235th overall, the Patriots maintained
their defensive focus as the draft headed for home.
New England selected Ohio State defensive back Nate Ebner in the sixth
round and followed up with cornerback Alfonzo Dennard of Nebraska with
their first pick in the seventh round.
The Patriots finally strayed from the defensive mold with their final
pick of the draft, taking Northwestern wide receiver Jeremy Ebert with
their second pick in the seventh round.
All in all, Belichick seemed pleased.
''We started out in the fifth round, and had an opportunity to move
back and we felt like drafting three players instead of one,'' he said.
''So, we felt that was a better place for us to be.
''So, we did that.''
Ebner, who joined the Buckeyes as a walk-on in 2009, was overwhelmed by
the opportunity to join the defending AFC champions.
''I'm just so excited about the opportunity,'' he said. ''I'm really at
a loss for words about the whole thing.''
A rugby convert, Ebner was extremely effective for the Buckeyes on
special teams over his four years in Columbus. Belichick noted the
special teams production, as well as being coached by some Belichick
disciples - namely former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel - at Ohio
''Nate is a guy that's a big fast safety, who has been very productive
in the kicking game,'' Belichick said. ''We've got some good
connections at Ohio State that have worked with him, so obviously that
played a part in it too.''
While selecting Ebner where they did was a bit of a surprise, the
Patriots did capitalize on a fast-falling star in Dennard in the
seventh round. Dennard's off-field issues seemed to be the main reason
in the projected second-rounder's plummet. He was arrested on charges
of assault and resisting arrest after allegedly punching a police
officer outside of a Lincoln, Neb., bar on April 21.
But much like with Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett in 2011, Belichick
wasn't scared off by the off-field issues.
''Alfonzo, is a guy we spent a lot of time on. Obviously, the incident
affected his draft position, but we researched it, we found out as much
as we could about it,'' Belichick said. ''He's strong, he's a physical
player. Obviously, as an organization, we were comfortable with making
the selection where we did.''
As for Ebert, Belichick admitted he was a player that the Patriots
''got on too late.'' The coach remained confident in the receiver's
ability to be productive in New England's system, though.
''He's an impressive guy, he does a lot of things well. We feel like
he's versatile and he will be able to compete at that position for
us,'' he said. ''We have a lot of experienced guys there and we felt
that adding a good, young player like him to that group would be
New England added seven players over the three-day draft, including a
number expected to produce immediately.
On Thursday, the Patriots traded up twice in the first round to select
defensive end Chandler Jones of Syracuse at No. 21, and linebacker
Dont'a Hightower of Alabama at No. 25.
The Patriots also spent both of their Friday picks on defense,
selecting safety Tavon Wilson of Illinois in the second round, at No.
48, as well as defensive end Jake Bequette of Arkansas in Round 3, at
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