Head coach Bill Belichick clearly decided to go on the offensive in this year's draft. Which is surprising, considering that there seem to be more pressing needs for his Patriots team on defense.
On the third and final day of the 2011 NFL Draft, New England's first selection of the day came in the fourth round, 138 overall, a pick they acquired in a trade with the Houston Texans earlier. With that pick, they chose Marcus Cannon (6-5, 350), an offensive lineman from TCU.
New England's second offensive lineman taken in this draft, Cannon was a tackle for the Horned Frogs throughout his career, but could project as a guard for the Patriots, given the first-round selection of Nate Solder and the established presence of Sebastian Vollmer.
Cannon is notable for another unfortunate reason: he recently was diagnosed with cancer.
He found out during his medical examinations at the Combine that he has a treatable form of the disease. One team, he said, ordered a biopsy, which revealed that he has non-Hodgskin's lymphoma. This past Thursday, he began treatments, but when asked if he'd be ready for the start of the season, Cannon said he was unsure.
"We're just taking it day by day," he replied during his introductory conference call with the local media. "But God wouldn't put this on my plate if I couldn't handle it. I knew I'd slip [in the draft, because of the diagnosis], but I had faith that someone would take me."
The Patriots worked Cannon out before the draft, he also revealed, and they seemed convinced that he could help them. He called it "a blessing" that he's now a member of the Patriots.
"We felt like that was good value for that pick," Belichick said of Cannon's selection.
"He's a very highly-rated player. Obviously, we felt comfortable enough to take him at that point [given his health concerns]."
In the fifth round, with the 159th overall pick, New England took tight end Lee Smith (6-6, 270) from Marshall. After the successful rookie years enjoyed by Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez last season, plus the elevation to co-captain status of veteran Alge Crumpler, this position didn't seem to be a need at all for the Patriots.
Smith welcomed the challenge of competing with his new teammates and contributing to the potency of the Patriots attack.
"Absolutely," he said Saturday in a conference call, "it fires me up to see two and three and four tight end sets on the field. I think that's something it's very special when a team can do that. That definitely makes mismatches. You've got Hernandez and Gronkowski and Crumpler - there all very different players, but at the same time with all three of them on the field, it's a nightmare for a defensive coordinator, for any team in the NFL.
"I'm humbled to be put in a group with those three guys," Smith added. "And I'm excited to pick their brains and hopefully get a little knowledge from each one of them. I know Crumpler has been in the league for a long time. I remember watching him when I was a young kid. It's a very humbling to get to play beside him and like I said, I'm excited to take all I can from him and the other two guys as far as their experiences as rookies."
Apparently, the team felt like making a trade simply for trade's sake, as they made a deal with Philadelphia to trade down one pick from 193 to 194 overall in the sixth round. They then took Markell Carter (6-4, 245), an outside linebacker from Central Arkansas. That was the position most observers thought the team would target in the first round, but Belichick didn't feel taking a player at that spot until the drafting was almost over.
With their final choice, 219 overall in the seventh round, New England went with another defensive back and another TCU Horned Frog - Malcolm Williams (5-10, 205), an obscure prospect who didn't start a single game for the Rose Bowl champions last season.
In the end, the Patriots spent two-thirds of their draft selections on offensive players - far more than most observers expected.
"It's more of an indication of how the draft went," Belichick explained to reporters in his concluding remarks. "When you see a lot of players get taken at a certain position in the draft, naturally, that gives more value to another position. You see that in every draft."
Given the uncertainty of the future of the league this season as a result of the labor strife, Belichick bid farewell to reporters not knowing when he'd see them - or his new players, for that matter - again.
"We just got through the important process of our offseason. It's been, as usual, exciting to evaluate the draft class and make the selections over the last three days. We have plenty of things we can work on in terms of our opponents and preparation for the season."