Without a selection in Round 1, the Patriots enjoyed the luxury of sitting back and watching the first night of the NFL Draft unfold. Friday night, however, they made up for it.
New England stayed put at the 60th overall pick, selecting Alabama cornerback/return specialist Cyrus Jones, but Bill Belichick couldn't resist the urge to trade and dealt the very next pick, 61 overall, to New Orleans. In exchange, the Patriots received the Saints' third-round choice, 78 overall, and fourth-round selection, 112 overall. New England previously had no choices in Rounds 4 or 5.
Jones, who comes from the Belichick-friendly Nick Saban system, began his collegiate career as a receiver before switching to defense. As a cornerback, he quickly transitioned into a starting role in which he has continued to develop over the past three seasons. He also excelled for the Crimson Tide as a punt returner.
[wysifield-embeddedaudio|eid="433056"|type="embeddedaudio"|view_mode="full"]"It's the best feeling in the world. I've worked so hard. I can't explain how I feel right now. It's still overwhelming… I couldn't be happier where I ended up," Jones said on a media conference call about being selected by New England. He went on to reveal that he sat and watched game film with Belichick during the pre-draft process.
"Versatile player, played on the perimeter mostly, at Alabama," director of player personnel Nick Caserio told reporters after the conclusion of Round 3. "He's a very effective punt returner, really good ball skills."
"I can definitely play nickel [corner]," Jones added during his conference call. "It's no problem if I have to slide inside. I played nickel a good deal in practice, but was on the outside for games.
View some of the best images from former Alabama CB Cyrus Jones, who was selected by the Patriots in the 2nd Round (60th overall) in the 2016 NFL Draft.
"Playing for Coach Saban – he's a great coach, arguably one of the best, arguably the best in the country – and I've heard many things that he's compared to Coach Belichick and that our program is ran similar to how the Patriots' is run. I feel as though I'm greatly prepared for the next level thanks to Coach Saban and the people I had around me for four years, just getting me ready both on and off the field."
With the Saints' 78th overall pick, the Patriots went with o-line depth, taking NC State tackle Joe Thuney (pronounced TOON-ey). Many experts' immediate reaction was that Thuney could have some position versatility to play on the interior. The player told reporters Friday night that he sees himself more as a guard who can lay tackle "in a pinch" in the NFL.
[wysifield-embeddedaudio|eid="433066"|type="embeddedaudio"|view_mode="full"]"I don't have the typical length of an NFL tackle," Thuney admitted. "All I can do is just go in there and work my hardest and see what happens."
"The thing about Thuney," Caserio observed, "is his overall versatility. He started at guard, at left tackle last season. When we worked him out, we worked him at center. Whether he can play there remains to be seen, but the overall value he brings is his versatility. It's hard to find. [He's] very bright… probably as intelligent as anybody at that position."
To the delight of many a Patriots fan, Thuney's selection was announced at the podium in Chicago by former Patriots running back Kevin Faulk, who appeared on stage wearing a Tom Brady jersey. Faulk showed his solidarity with his former teammate, who's currently suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season, not only by wearing the jersey, but also saying, "The New England Patriots and Tom Brady select…" when he announced Thuney's name.
"That's why Kevin Faulk is a potential member of the Patriots Hall of Fame," Caserio smiled when the subject was broached. "We all love Kevin Faulk."
New England, meanwhile, wasn't done with Wolfpack players, though. With pick 91 overall in Round 3, the team chose NC State QB Jacoby Brissett.
"Big guy, athletic, strong," were some characteristics of Brissett that Caserio pointed out.
Just after 11 p.m., at the end of Round 3, the Patriots made their fourth and final pick of the day, plucking defensive tackle Vincent Valentine from Nebraska with the 96th overall selection.
"This is a big guy," Caserio raved. "He's long, very strong, very physical, good run [defense] player, well coached."
Caserio revealed that New England "explored" trading up in the second round, but that a suitable partner could not be found. He also maintained that the Patriots made very little effort to climb into the first round because the cost to do so would have been too steep for their liking.
New England currently has eight more picks scheduled when the draft concludes with Rounds 4-7 on Saturday afternoon.