One would think that the team with the final draft choice in the first round in 2015 would take a chance on an injured player with tremendous upside. It was surprising to see the Super Bowl Champions, the New England Patriots accept the best player available.
In the 2014 NFL draft, the Patriots chose DT Dominique Easley from the University of Florida. NFL:
In the regular-season finale against Florida State in 2011, Dominique tore the ACL in his left knee and missed playing in the Gator Bowl. Returned to the field in '12 and started 11 games at defensive end. Easley missed two games with a sprained meniscus. He started the first three games of '13 at defensive tackle. His season was cut short when he ruptured his right ACL and medial meniscus in a non-contact practice drill. Draft Projection Rounds 3-4.
The NFL Draft is very similar to being on offense. Take what you can get and stay patient. Play for tomorrow. Rome can't be built in a day. The loss of DT Vince Wilfork can't be replaced by only DT Malcom Brown from the University of Texas. Brown finished with more defensive stops against the run (38) than any other defensive tackle in college football. This past year, he was an Outland Trophy finalist as the best interior lineman in the country. That helps, but it doesn't fill the gaping hole in the defensive front vacated by Wilfork.
Chris Price, WEEI:
No franchise pushes the idea of team defense more than the Patriots, and with that thinking in place it’s easy to see why they decided to forsake the idea of drafting a cornerback in the first round to try to replace Darrelle Revis. It turns out that the thought process was the only way to respond to the challenge that comes with trying to replace a defensive back like Revis is to bolster the front seven with the addition of a big body like Brown.
Bottom line? While the Patriots have swung and missed when using top-50 picks at other positions, they’ve established an excellent track record of success when it comes to identifying, drafting and developing defensive linemen with those early picks. Four of the defensive linemen (Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, Chandler Jones and Vince Wilfork) were unquestioned positives. A fifth (Dominique Easley) certainly appeared like he could be a difference-maker if/when he’s completely healthy.
Said Brown: “You know, I liked [playing all the positions on the defensive line]. I can play every position, I was pretty good at every position. Wherever [Belichick] wants me to play, that’s where I’m going to be and I’m going to give it my all. ... I’ll play nose technique, 3-technique, defensive end. It doesn’t matter.” Bill wants positional versatility. It took until the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft for the Patriots to choose strictly for need. That selection was long snapper Joe Cardona from the Naval Academy. I am confident Joe brings more to the table than just the skill of snapping a football between his legs.
Brown wasn’t expected to be available when it came time for the Patriots to make their selection, so the team and some NFL experts feel the Super Bowl champs got a steal. At 320 pounds, Malcom Brown is the type of “relentless” player on the defensive line that the Patriots need. He is also the kind of throwback player Belichick hasn’t drafted since Wilfork. In fact, the Patriots head coach made comparisons to another great defensive lineman, Richard Seymour.
"when we took Seymour, it was a big crisis because he had only one half sack in college and he couldn't rush the passer," Belichick said.
It is now four years in running that New England has gone for defense with their first selection. It is not a matter of philosophy. The Patriots just take the table scraps that the other teams don't eat. That formula has worked wonders. There are no champions crowned in April.
Paul Murphy is a freelance writer from New Hampshire. .
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