Bill Belichick said back in January that his defense needed to get younger and that the draft was the place to do that. He was true to his word on Day One Saturday when he traded up twice to land defensive players who should make immediate impacts.
He elected to move up one spot from 14 to 13 to secure Texas A&M defensive lineman Ty Warren and then jumped up from 41 to 36 to grab Illinois cornerback Eugene Wilson. Of course, the Patriots held the 41st pick only after moving down from the 19th spot for the 41st and the Ravens first round pick in 2004.
The first trade cost the Patriots a sixth-round pick, which was a small price to pay to ensure they got the defensive lineman they badly needed. Since nine of the first 18 picks were defensive linemen, the Patriots deserve credit for making sure they landed the player they wanted among the remaining linemen. Even with the Patriots picking 13th, five defensive linemen were already gone, including four tackles.
Warren was arguably the best remaining defensive lineman and certainly fits the Patriots defense. He played nose tackle as a junior in the Aggies 3-4 defense before moving out to left end last year. His experience in the 3-4 was surely a plus for the Patriots, which is why they traded up to take him rather than sit back and take either Miami's William Joseph or one of the top defensive ends in the draft.
Unless the kid flat out can't play, which is highly unlikely, this was a good pick even if excited Patriots fans wanted to trade up into the top five for the glamour pick. The Patriots hope he can come in and play the nose beside Richard Seymour. At 6-4, he might be slightly taller than the traditional nose tackle, but Seymour, at 6-6, has fared well in the position for New England when asked to fill that role.
New England was 31st against the run last year and needed an interior defensive lineman. They got one. The way that position fell off the board, the Patriots would not have landed Warren had they not used the 13th pick on him. The knock on the kid is durability, but he didn't miss any significant playing time over the last three seasons and played 10 games in 2002 despite suffering a high ankle sprain – the type of injury that can keep a player out for several weeks.
Trading down with the 19th pick was disappointing on the surface because it wasn't the exciting move, but it was definitely a value decision. With that, New England already owns two picks in each of the first two rounds in 2004, which will benefit them if they actually make those picks.
The Patriots also needed a young, talented cornerback and may have landed one in Wilson with the 36th pick. He is a ball-hawking type of corner who had 11 interceptions in college to go with 60 pass breakups.
His draft publication bios claim that he doesn't work hard off the field, which would fly in the face of what Belichick likes in his players. Belichick asks his defensive backs to study as much as any player on the team because of his complex schemes and disguises. If Wilson doesn't like the film room, he won't like New England. In his Saturday press conference, Belichick claimed that no such work ethic issues exist with any of the picks. Expect to see Wilson hanging out with Otis Smith early in his Patriots career.
The Patriots moved up from 50 to 45 to select Texas A&M wideout Bethel Johnson in a move that has to be considered a head scratcher. Most draft rankings did not have Johnson ranked among the top 20 receivers in the draft and had him slated as a fourth or fifth rounder. The Patriots obviously didn't see it that way, selecting him fifth among his positional peers. But it's difficult to believe they had to trade up to get him, never mind use a second round selection.
He is one of the fastest players in the draft (4.37 40-yard dash), but admittedly needs to improve his concentration because he sometimes drops easy passes. The Patriots hope to utilize his return skills since he averaged 13 yards per punt return in 15 career attempts while averaging a mediocre 20 yards per return on 22 kickoffs.
The Patriots certainly don't subscribe to the draft publications to make their selections and we're not privy to their rankings, but this pick has to be considered a major reach. Pro Football Weekly's draft publication ranked him 29th among receivers and it's hard to imagine the Patriots went after a kick returner with the 13th pick of the second round.
Some of the other top receivers still available were Florida State's Anquan Bolden, Middle Tennessee State's Tyrone Calico, Stanford's Teyo Johnson and Tennessee's Kelley Washington. In the essence of fairness, last year's second round selection of Deion Branch was met with some shoulder shrugs and Branch surprised just about everybody outside of the Patriots scouting and coaching staffs with his skills.
But Branch was a highly productive college player and the same cannot be said of Johnson, who caught 117 passes in four years, including 40 as a senior in 2002. He did, however, have eight touchdown receptions last year. Branch, on the other hand, had 143 receptions in just two seasons at Louisville.
Johnson is fast and has upside, but we layman can only go by the draft publications, which indicate this pick was a reach.
The bottom line is that the Patriots scouting department better know something the "draftniks" don't. That's a safe assumption, but how safe will be something to watch.