The many rumored trades involving a Patriots move into the top portion of the draft never came to fruition Saturday afternoon, but New England was anything but quiet as the team completed four trades in the first three rounds of draft action. Potential trades into the top 10 dissipated with every early selection in what was a rather eventful beginning to the first round, but fans in Patriots Nation looking for the team to move didn't have to wait long for what turned out to be a flurry of New England trades.
With the Bears sitting on the clock for the 13th pick, acquired in a Friday trade with the New York Jets, and likely fielding offers from other teams, the Patriots moved up one slot from number 14 to select Texas A&M defensive tackle/end Ty Warren. In order to move up to select the 6-4, 307-pound Aggie New England sent its 14th pick and a sixth-round pick (193rd overall) to the Bears.
Warren is a versatile player who played both end and tackle in his collegiate career. In 36 career games (25 starts) he totaled 144 tackles, with 13.5 sacks, 40 QB pressures and a forced fumble. He comes off a senior season in which he started 10 games, recorded 52 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 12 tackles for a loss. Warren was the sixth defensive lineman to go in the draft and the fifth tackle, but according to Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick was a good fit for the New England scheme.
"Warren's a big defensive end who will play end in the 3-4 defense, which he did at Texas A&M," Belichick said. "In his junior year he also played some nose, so we think he has some position flexibility there and the defensive system that they play at A&M is very similar to what we'll be using. We'll just have to see how it goes, but he has played both spots."
Following the Warren selection the Patriots sat with the 19th pick, but instead worked a deal with the Baltimore that allowed the Ravens to select Cal quarterback Kyle Boller with the pick. In exchange for the selection New England acquired Baltimore's second round pick (41st overall) and the Ravens first-round pick in the 2004 draft.
New England did not wait around to select in the 41st spot acquired in the deal though, as the team moved up for the second time in the young draft to select University of Illinois cornerback Eugene Wilson with 36th pick formerly held by the Houston Texans. In the trade the Patriots sent the 41st pick and a third round pick (75th overall) to the Texans for the opportunity to select Wilson as well as a fourth-round pick (117th overall).
The 5-10, 192-pound Wilson is an athletic corner, who much like Warren shows a bit of versatility in how he can be used in a defense. In four seasons with the Illini he played in 45 games (35 starts), totaled 176 tackles, 11 interceptions and shattered the school record for passes defensed with 60.
"We've seen examples of him doing a number of different things at the corner position, press coverage, off coverage, man-to-man, zone and so forth," Belichick said of the Patriots highest pick of a true corner since Chris Canty's selection in the first round in 1997. "We think that he's going to be a good addition to our secondary."
No sooner did the dust settle on the third Patriots trade, than along came another. Again New England made a slight jump up to snag a player Belichick and Vice President of Player Personnel Scott Pioli apparently had their eyes on. The team sent its second-round pick (50th overall) and a fourth rounder (120th overall) to the Carolina Panthers for the opportunity to move up to the 45th pick and select Texas A&M wide receiver Bethel Johnson.
While the 5-11, 201-pound Aggie might not be the big receiver the team has been searching for in recent years, the team could not pass up a chance to get a player who was apparently one of the fastest in the draft. In his four-year college career Johnson started 22-of-35 games played totaling 117 catches for 1,740 yards and 11 scores. While he played in just two games as a junior due to a spleen injury, he bounced back as a senior with 40 catches for 718 yards (18.0 avg.) and eight touchdowns. Johnson brings his own versatility as well, as he returned both punts and kicks at A&M.
So while Belichick had much to talk about when he addressed the New England media in the press box at Gillette Stadium following the team's three first-day picks, he seemed rather content with what had occurred. Prior to the draft he had said he would not be surprised if the team did not used each of its 13 picks and Saturday he talked about the thought process that goes into teams making draft day trades.
"First of all, when you go into a draft like we did in this one where we have multiple picks in a number of rounds, we had probably more picks than we'd think we would use with 13, that gives you some flexibility to move within the draft," Belichick said. "Basically, what you try to do is maximize those opportunities. There are other drafts that I've been involved in here where there were few opportunities and you really don't have much ammunition or much in the way of draft picks to do anything with other than sit there…This was one of those situations where we had some flexibility.
"It's not like we're going to go in and say, 'We're going to make four trades today or make three trades today.' You look at where you are and if it looks like you going to start to lose value in the draft, then you might go up there and get it. If you're sitting there and you feel like one guy's value is about the same as the next, then sometimes there's something to be said for backing out of that spot and trying to pick up something else that you can use at a different point in time."
However you look at the moves that were made, the Patriots certainly weren't afraid to move around Saturday afternoon. The team entered the first day of the draft with four picks in the first three rounds and came away from day one with three valued players. The route to those players was not exactly a direct one, but at least for now anyway the team is happy with what it has. And with the addition of Baltimore's first round pick next year as well as Miami's previously acquired second-round selection, the team has already put down the foundation for similar draft day value versatility in 2004.
The fourth round of the draft will tip off Sunday at 11 a.m. … New England has seven picks on Sunday. Two in the fourth (117 and 128 overall), two in the fifth (154 and 157) and three in the seventh (225, 234, 239).