While New England had a number of opportunities to continue the local draft-day tradition of trading around, Bill Belichick and Co. stood pat selecting highly-regarded Miami nose tackle Vince Wilfork, Georgia tight end Ben Watson, LSU defensive end Marquise Hill and Florida safety Guss Scott.
Wilfork, a 6-2, 344-pound junior, had been projected to go as high as the top ten in a number of mock drafts, but slipped to the Patriots 21st selection. He played in 36 games in his three seasons with the Hurricanes, tallying 148 tackles, 14 sacks, five forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
Wilfork reacted enthusiastically when he learned he was coming to New England and hopes to make a smooth transition from one winning program to another in his jump from one of the top college programs in college football to the defending Super Bowl champions.
"I loved it because New England loves to win, they love to play the game and they know a lot about winning," Wilfork said via conference call of his reaction when he found out he was the Patriots top pick. "That comes from a background of mine down at the University of Miami. We love to win also and we know what it is like to have good competition. So when I was announced as a New England Patriot that was the most…I just fell in love right there."
According to Belichick, who addressed the media via conference call following the team's second-round selection of Hill, Wilfork is a guy that New England was more than happy to see on the board when the team was on the clock.
"I'd say it was a little bit of a surprise," Belichick said of Wilfork's availability at 21. "But there are always surprises on draft day, you just never know how they are going to come off. We were happy that he was there. We had some trade opportunities on both our first round picks but we decided to stay and select the players. We thought there was good value there."
In selecting Watson with the final pick of the first round the Patriots got an athletic tight end with all the measurables that come with an elite-level athlete. The 6-3, 253-pound Bulldog runs a 4.5 40, did 34 reps in the bench press and scored a 41 out of 50 on the Wonderlic test. In three seasons at Georgia after transferring from Duke Watson caught 65 passes for 852 yards and six touchdowns. He caught 23 passes for 424 yards and two touchdowns in 2003 and impressed scouts with a strong week at the Senior Bowl.
"Watson is a smart guy," Belichick said. "He's got a lot of versatility. We do a lot of formations with the tight ends and those kinds of things. Charlie (Weis) and I have talked about that and I think we'll be able to utilize him within our system well. He comes from another good program. He's good in the receiving game and had a real good Senior Bowl. He's a big, strong, physical guy that runs well and catches well."
The Patriots then returned to the defensive side of the ball with second and third round selections of Hill (63rd) and Scott (95th).
Hill is a 6-6, 297-pound defensive end that played in 38 games in three seasons at LSU totaling 117 tackles, 10 sacks, one interception, one fumble recovery and two forced fumbles in a system run by former Belichick assistant Nick Saban that has many similarities to the one utilized in New England.
"He gives us depth on the defensive line," Belichick said. "He's a tall guy with long arms. He's been disruptive in the passing game and has played at a high level of competition there in the SEC. Again based on the fact that he's been at LSU and has been in that program and system, it's a guy that we can evaluate and see him do a lot of things similar to what we are doing."
Scott is a versatile player who adds depth to both the New England secondary as well the team's ever-emphasized special teams units. The 5-10, 198-pound safety played both free and strong safety at Florida as well as nickel back work in the units sub packages.
"Guss has been a real productive player for them down there," Belichick said. "He's a pretty good player on special teams. He's a solid player that has some coverage skill and has been real productive. I like him on all four downs."
New England has four picks heading into Sunday's second day of the draft. The Patriots have two fourth round picks (113 and 128), one fifth round selection (154) and one seventh-round selection (233). The Sunday's selections kick off at 11 a.m.