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Draft starts with D

Patriots trade picks, get Jones, Hightower

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / April 27, 2012
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FOXBOROUGH – As soon as you think you have Bill Belichick figured out, he does just the opposite of what you expect. That was reinforced Thursday night.

The Patriots moved up in the first round not once but twice, first trading with Cincinnati to get to No. 21 and take Syracuse defensive end/outside linebacker Chandler Jones, and then trading with Denver for the 25th pick, where they chose Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower.

To get Jones, a 6-foot-5 1/2-inch, 266-pounder, they gave the Bengals the 27th pick (acquired last year from the Saints) and their third-round pick, the 93d overall.

For Hightower, listed at 6-2, 265, New England surrendered its first-round pick, at 31, plus a fourth-round spot at No. 126.

They were surprise moves from Belichick, who had not traded up in the first round since 2003, when he selected Ty Warren.

Instead, the norm in recent years has been the team moving back, or as in 2009, out of the round completely.

“I thought we had a good day today,’’ Belichick said at a late-night news conference. “As usual, the draft always takes some interesting twists and turns; you just never know how it’s going to go. As the players came of the board, we were able to execute some trades there and still hang on to our second-round picks, which, I thought if we moved up I wasn’t sure if we would be able to do that.

“Nick [Caserio, the director of player personnel] really did a good job of handling those, and I feel like we got good value for them and took Dont’a and Chandler. It probably could have been in either order, but it felt like we would have a better chance to end up with both players if it went that way. Not that we were sure we’d be able to get the second one, but we thought we might have a shot at it.’’

The moves mean that for now, New England does not have a pick beyond Friday’s second round. When the draft began, the Patriots had two picks in the first, two in the second, and one each in the third and fourth.

Jones comes from an athletic family: His brother, Arthur, plays on the Ravens’ defensive line, and another brother, Jon, is a champion UFC fighter.

Some feel that the 22-year-old was the best pure pass rusher available in the draft, good news for fans who have been clamoring for one for at least three years.

The New York native played in just seven games last season (he missed five because of a knee injury), but still had 38 tackles, 7 1/2 tackles for losses, and 4 1/2 sacks. In 32 games with the Orange, including 28 starts, he recorded 27 tackles for losses and 10 sacks.

“I was excited to hear Roger Goodell say my name, that’s just a dream come true, and I’m excited to be a Patriot,’’ Jones said. “I have no idea where I’m going to play [but] I’m going to play wherever Coach tells me to play, and I’m ready to learn this playbook.’’

Belichick said of Jones, “Chandler is a little younger, and has a little less experience, coming out early and he missed part of the season last year, but he’s a talented player, smart guy, works hard, and did a good job against some good quality players he faced at tackle in the last couple years in the Big East.’’

Hightower likely comes with high praise from Alabama coach and Belichick friend Nick Saban. He was a playmaker in college, a standout player for the best defense in the best conference in college football.

A versatile performer with the Crimson Tide, Hightower played three linebacker positions - weakside, middle, and a pass-rushing position.

“I thought they might have picked me up the first time, but they traded back up the second time and grabbed me, so I’m grateful for that,’’ Hightower said.

Both players said they did not have a private workout or official visit with the Patriots. Jones said he talked with the team at the combine, and Hightower talked to the Patriots at the combine and at his pro day.

Asked about his versatility and whether he believes he would fit better in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense, Hightower said it’s more about defensive scheme and philosophy.

“I’m going to get to the ball and I’m going to make plays on the ball,’’ he said, adding that Belichick is “a genius . . . playing for somebody like that to gain more knowledge, after playing for Coach Saban, that’s only going to help me and my game.’’

Belichick said the linebacker comes from “a great program with a great coach’’ and was a leader and signal-caller for the Crimson Tide.

“Both players have some versatility. We’ll work with them and figure out what works best for us and them, but [we are] excited to work with them, glad we have them on our team,’’ Belichick said. “I think they will represent us well both on and off the field - at least that’s our expectation.’’

The Patriots expect to introduce Jones and Hightower Friday at Gillette Stadium.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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