Another draft, another day of wheeling and dealing for Bill Belichick.
On at least two occasions in the weeks leading up to Saturday's first two rounds, Belichick spoke of the value in this year's crop as being pretty evenly spread between the 20th and 40th spots. Belichick, operating for the first time at the Patriots helm without his trusty sidekick Scott Pioli, certainly backed up those words with his various moves to get down toward the latter position.
A pair of trades allowed New England to move from 23 to 26 to 41 and completely out of the first round. A third trade eventually pushed the Pats back up to 40 (from 47) and suddenly Belichick had three selections in an eight-pick span from 34-41. If his theory of 40 being the same as 20 proves correct, Belichick was able to garner three potential first-round picks all in the top half of the second round.
Talk about value.
"Overall it was about evaluating the entire draft," Belichick said shortly after the conclusion of Round 2. "As I said earlier in the week, it's sort of like preparing for a final exam. There's a lot of information to study and you never know exactly what you're going to have to know. You try to get a sense of where everybody will go.
"We felt there was a lot of depth in this draft, and there still is for tomorrow. It was a case of seeing the whole board and seeing where it was going to go. I thought [Director of Player Personnel] Nick [Caserio] and [College Scouting Director] Jon Robinson did a real good job of predicting where it would go."
Time will tell if the braintrust's overall beliefs of the value of this class will be proven correct. But it's clear that Belichick wasn't comfortable enough with anyone to pick in the first round. He traded not once but twice to avoid doing so. While he alluded to some opportunities to move back into the tail end of the round, he obviously didn't think the need was pressing enough to pull the trigger.
Therefore, he wound up treating the top of the second round as his sweet spot. In terms of the three picks – Patrick Chung, Ron Brace and Darius Butler – he came away with three young athletes to add to a somewhat aging defense. That was largely thought to be the most logical plan of attack heading into Saturday, and although linebacker wasn't part of the equation, the Patriots still emerged with players who should fill long- and short-term needs.
Chung (5-11, 207) is a cerebral safety out of Oregon who filled a variety of roles in the Ducks secondary. Belichick explained that he was comfortable around the line of scrimmage, in the underneath zones and deep as the center fielder. His versatility should allow him to compete for playing time immediately since Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders are the lone returning players on the current roster with any significant playing time under their belts.
After getting Chung at No. 34, the Patriots had just six picks to wait until their next selection at 41. Clearly Brace and Butler were the objects of their affection but with only one pick Belichick chose not to decide between the two and instead worked another deal to move to 40. That allowed him to grab both, leaving the Patriots with four picks in both and the second and third rounds.
Butler (5-10, 178) is one of the best athletes in the entire draft. The cornerback out of UConn played some offense for the Huskies and impressed Belichick himself during a solid pro day workout last month. He'll also have an opportunity to compete for playing time in a secondary that finished near the bottom of several categories a year ago – including touchdown passes allowed, red zone defense and third-down defense.
Brace is more of an insurance policy but a quality player nonetheless. The mammoth nose tackle out of Boston College figures to back up Vince Wilfork immediately while possibly serving as a potential replacement for the pending free agent. Brace has the size at 6-3, 329 to serve in the middle of Belichick's 3-4 scheme.
With the basic needs filled with those three picks, Belichick ventured outside the box a bit on his final pick of the day at No. 58. Houston's Sebastian Vollmer, who some draft analysts had pegged as a potential free agent, got the call to close out the evening. Vollmer is a 6-6, 314-pound tackle out of Germany who hasn't played a ton of football but has shown some potential and could be a nice developmental pick, albeit as a higher pick than anticipated.
Belichick clearly felt the value at outside linebacker wasn't high enough to take at the end of the first round. With Mike Vrabel gone to Kansas City, there would seem to be a sizable hole in the starting lineup opposite Adalius Thomas with Pierre Woods and Tully Banta-Cain the most experienced players on the roster at that spot. One other name to keep in mind is Shawn Crable, last year's third-round pick out of Michigan who spent the bulk of his rookie season on injured reserve. Perhaps the decision to bypass the spot early this year was an indication that Crable is on the radar of the coaching staff.
Either way it unfolded like a typical Belichick draft: lots of maneuvering, some picks that some saw coming (Butler), some that came out of nowhere (Vollmer) and a couple in between (Chung, Brace). And with four picks to kick off Round 3 tomorrow, Belichick still has the time and ammunition to pick up a quality linebacker – or whatever he feels offers the most value.