253 draft picks taken over the weekend transformed NFL rosters in a matter of days. Around the League will examine the aftershocks by asking one post-draft burning question for all 32 teams. So far, we've tackled the Jets, Jaguars, Dolphins, Colts, Raiders and Bills. Next up: The New England Patriots.
Could the Patriots' defense actually be dangerous?
We've established that Bill Belichick doesn't care what you or Mel Kiper thinks about his draft. That doesn't make Belichick's draft strategy any less popular in New England, with the possible exception of taking Tavon Wilson in the second round. The Patriots finally got serious about addressing needs in their front seven.
No. 21 overall pick Chandler Jones could be New England's long-term answer to Jason Pierre-Paul. No. 27 overall pick Dont'a Hightower is a natural inside linebacker who also can play on the outside. Third-round pick Jake Bequette could be a Brett Keisel-like player at defensive end.
These three players are all versatile, intelligent and should make an immediate impact. Bill Belichick said in a conversation with Sirius XM NFL Radio that Jones can stand up or have his hand down on defense, but he's mostly an "end of the line" player. He's the pass rusher. Hightower was lauded for similar leadership skills to Jerod Mayo. He's an explosive tackler who can also rush the passer. Belichick says Bequette's pass-rush moves are more advanced than most players coming out of college. He can play linebacker and defensive end.
Belichick moved to a four-man front primarily in 2011, but he's always been "multiple" on defense. These additions make it more possible than ever for Belichick to change his defensive attack every week (and every play) to the opponent. The Patriots were often vanilla on defense over the last few years because of a lack of talent in the front seven. You can't say that anymore.
The three rookies join Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Kyle Love and Rob Ninkovich as core front seven pieces. It's not the 1985 Bears, but it's not the regular-season 2011 Patriots either. This is a group that played its very best in the playoffs and has a great chance to take that momentum into 2012.
There are still major questions about the Patriots' secondary, but for the first time in at least five years, New England's defense looks dangerous. Tom Brady shouldn't have to carry the team as much this season.