As far as the New England Patriots are concerned, there are only two rules of thumb on draft weekend -- expect some trades and, above all else, expect the unexpected.
In years' past under Bill Belichick, the Patriots tended to stray from what everyone else believed they would do. If they needed a linebacker, they drafted a running back. If they needed help on offense, they grabbed another defensive lineman.
This year was somewhat of an exception. With glaring weaknesses on defense, the Patriots did what everyone expected them to and loaded up on safeties, cornerbacks and linebackers early on. Five of their first seven picks were defensive players, starting with Oregon safety Patrick Chung, a second-round selection (34th overall).
The pick used to select Chung came courtesy of an offseason trade with Kansas City in which the Patriots sent Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel to the Chiefs in exchange for the 34th and 41st selections. It's also worth noting the Patriots traded out of the first round, dealing the 23rd overall pick to Green Bay in exchange for the 83rd overall pick, which they used to grab North Carolina wide receiver Brandon Tate.
Clearly, the Patriots didn't place much value on the potential first-round picks available in this year's draft. For just the fourth time in franchise history, they did not pick a player in the opening round, instead wheeling and dealing to land themselves four second-round picks and two third-rounders.
Is this a case of choosing quantity over quality? Not necessarily.
If Chung is available at No. 34, then there's no need to take him at No. 23 -- especially if you can deal the latter in exchange for another late-round pick.
One of the big questions following the departure of player personnel guru Scott Pioli, who is now in Kansas City, was how this move would affect the dynamic of the Patriots' draft strategy. Clearly, it's status quo with or without Pioli. The Patriots were as active this weekend as they've been in the past, with the only exception being they didn't make a first-round pick.
As for the players selected, it appears the choice to go with Chung indicates veteran safety Rodney Harrison won't be coming back this season. If he does, he might not have a role with the Patriots. Harrison has been slowed by injuries the past few years and even if he has another great season left in his body the Patriots cannot deny the need to get younger at that position. The addition of Chung forms an intriguing young trio in the secondary that also includes Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders. Meriweather was a first-round pick two years ago.
The Patriots also appear willing to part with some dead weight, as is the case with their trade of Ellis Hobbs to Philadelphia in exchange for two fifth-round picks. Hobbs served his purpose at times, but never developed into a top-flight corner when Asante Samuel left for Philadelphia. He will probably be utilized in a role more suitable for his talents while the Patriots will get two more chances to find a diamond in the rough.
BEST PICK: UConn CB Darius Butler might be a steal as the 41st overall pick. He established himself as the top cornerback in the Big East Conference and also served a dual-role on special teams, which could keep him in the mix when final cuts are made in July. Butler finished with the 10th most return yards in school history and also displayed a nose for the end zone, becoming the first player in conference history to record a touchdown on a kick return, an interception return, a reception and a rushing play.
COULD SURPRISE: North Carolina receiver Brandon Tate, another kick-return specialist, could play the role Bethel Johnson never did in his short stint with the Patriots. The upshot is, he's an even better receiver than Johnson ever was. Tate nearly broke the NCAA record for kick-return yardage and established himself as a two-way threat by playing receiver and defensive back. In fact, this could be the perfect makeup pick after Matthew Slater bottomed out trying to play a similar role in 2008.
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