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Graham surprised, excited to join Pats

Bill Belichick has said time and again that his goal is to draft the best value available. He didn't sway from that on Day One of the draft, trading up 11 spots to get Colorado tight end Daniel Graham with the 21st selection of the first round.



            New England gave Washington its first- (32nd overall) and third-round (96th overall) choices to get Graham, who won the **John Mackey Award** as the nation's top tight end last fall. It marked just the second time in team history, the Patriots drafted a tight end in the first round, the first being **Russ Francis** with the 16th overall pick in 1975.  

The choice of a tight end by the Patriots was somewhat of a surprise, given the team already had five on the roster. Within the last 29 days New England signed free agents Christian Fauria and Cam Cleeland and re-signed exclusive rights free agent Jermaine Wiggins. Also on the roster are 2001 draft picks Jabari Holloway and Arther Love.

Still, the chance to get a player of Graham's caliber was enough to make Belichick jump.

"We saw some value as we went through the teams there, and we were able to execute a trade with Washington to move up to No. 21," Belichick said. "We had Daniel rated significantly as one of the better players on the board. We thought it was good value, and we were able to move up to get him. That gives us pretty good competition at the tight end position."

Graham was second among tight ends last fall with 51 catches for 753 yards and six touchdowns, averaging a strong 14.8 yards per catch. He was the second player taken at the position behind Miami's Jeremy Shockey, who went to the New York Giants with the 14th overall pick.

Surprised that he didn't go a bit earlier in the draft, Graham was excited to get the call from New England, which he said was the only team to contact him Saturday. Aware of the numbers at the position, he is confident he'll fit well in the Patriots offense.

"I'm going to come in and compete there right away," said Graham, who will come to New England Thursday before the start of rookie camp next weekend. "I know there is a lot of depth there at the position, but I'm going to come in and do what I can to contribute to the team."

The Patriots have not been subtle about wanting to upgrade the tight end position. In his pre-draft press conference, Belichick said the problems scoring touchdowns in the postseason were a concern for the offense. Last season's starter Rod Rutledge was basically a sixth offensive lineman, while Wiggins managed 14 catches in the regular season as a reserve.

Graham is Belichick's third draft pick at tight end in three years with New England, following Holloway and Love last year and 2000 bust Dave Stachelski. In addition, the team has also signed Fauria, Cleeland, Eric Bjornson, Johnny McWilliams and Chris Fontenot in recent offseasons. Belichick thinks Graham may finally solve the problems at the position.

"That's why we took him," Belichick said. "How soon it happens, I don't know. You can't really predict a rookie's progress, but we'll put him out there and hopefully see what he can do. Whether that's the first week, middle of the season, the end of the season or next year, I really don't know."

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