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They chose not to be picky in first round

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By Mike Reiss
April 26, 2009
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FOXBOROUGH - Rebuilding teams with numerous holes often do what the Patriots did yesterday during the first round of the NFL draft. Trading down twice and stockpiling lower selections usually gives them a better chance to build a foundation. The more players, the better.

But the Patriots aren't a rebuilding team. They are one of the few NFL clubs who don't have a major opening for a rookie to fill.

So, why the double backpedal out of the first round? Why, when the first round finally ended early last night, were they owners of a whopping 13 draft picks - eight of which came in the first 100?

The first conclusion to draw is that the Patriots didn't think highly of the talent atop this draft. And for a team that stresses the word "value" in the draft - which in their world is a mix of talent and economics - they probably didn't want to pay first- round money for what they felt was second- or third-round talent.

By the time the first two rounds of the draft were over, the Patriots had swung three trades and ended up with four second-round picks, one more than they had when the day began. Oregon safety Patrick Chung (34th overall), BC nose tackle Ron Brace (40th), Connecticut cornerback Darius Butler (41st), and Houston offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer (58th) were the picks.

"We felt like that was a good area to be in this draft, from a depth standpoint and the quality of the players we were getting with those picks," coach Bill Belichick said.

The Patriots also added two third-round picks to the two they already owned, and Belichick said he wouldn't rule out making more trades - perhaps trying to add chips for 2010 - when the third round starts this morning.

Belichick tipped his intentions early yesterday. Relaxed and near jovial during a television interview an hour before the draft began, he said there was a "less than zero percent" chance that the Patriots were moving into the top 10, although he had previously made an offer to the Jaguars for the eighth overall pick that was shot down.

"Who would I be trading up for?" he asked with a smile, suggesting that he didn't feel there was a player worth the cost.

Belichick said it was more likely they'd trade back, which is exactly how it unfolded.

Time will tell if the deals were right for the Patriots, as the AFC East rival Dolphins seemed pleased to land Illinois cornerback Vontae Davis with the 25th overall pick. If Davis turns into a Pro Bowler, batting away Tom Brady passes and helping Miami once again wrestle division supremacy away from the Patriots, Belichick and Co. could regret their move to pass on a player such as Davis.

However, the other players who went in that range weren't fits for the team's system.

Sliding Mississippi offensive tackle Michael Oher (23d) was considered best for a more simplified offense, not a complex attack like the Patriots'.

Defensive tackle Peria Jerry (24th) is purely a 4-3 type player, a slanting penetrator who is miscast in the 3-4 scheme the Patriots run.

Outside linebacker Clay Matthews (26th) will play in the 3-4 in Green Bay, but the style to be adopted by Packers coordinator Dom Capers is different from what the Patriots run, where outside linebackers are more like defensive ends. Matthews, at 240 pounds, wouldn't be equipped to hold the edge in New England.

The other picks in that area were running back Donald Brown (Colts, 27th), center/guard Eric Wood (Bills, 28th), receiver Hakeem Nicks (Giants, 29th), receiver Kenny Britt (Titans, 30th), running back Chris Wells (Cardinals, 31st), defensive lineman Evander Hood (Steelers, 32d), and defensive back Louis Delmas (Lions, 33d).

Of the group, because of the way they would fit into the team's system, Wood, Hood, and Delmas are the main players who could come back to haunt the Patriots for getting out of the first round. The Patriots particularly liked Wood, a hard-nosed blocker from Louisville.

One could also argue that if the talent at the lower end of the first round didn't represent value, the Patriots could have worked harder to trade up, and perhaps target sliding players such as Ohio State defensive back Malcolm Jenkins (14th, Saints) or Tennessee defensive end Robert Ayers (18th, Broncos).

But this wasn't a day for moving up. Instead, the Patriots went backward to where they deemed the value to be - in the second and third rounds.

"I think there is good depth in this draft, and there still is heading into [today]," Belichick said.

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