Did this represent a sea change? After looking back over the first seven drafts of the Bill Belichick Era, it’s quite obvious that the answer is “yes”. And maybe it had to be as guys like Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Rodney Harrison aged, and others like Willie McGinest and Ty Law moved on.
Check this out: From 2000-06, the Patriots had 21 picks in the Top 100 of the draft. They used none on linebackers and four on defensive backs (CB Brock Williams, 86th, 2001; S Eugene Wilson, 36th, 2003; S Guss Scott, 95th, 2004; CB Ellis Hobbs, 84th, 2005). The two biggest hits at either of those positions, draft-wise, came outside the Top 100, with Asante Samuel in 2003 and James Sanders in 2005.
So it’s fair to say that the huge influx of draft picks at those spots of late is a result of two things: Age in those areas previously and a dearth of young up-and-comers working behind them.
A few years ago, there was an outcry to get younger on defense as the cornerstones of the championship teams got up in years. The last couple years, the Patriots have been enduring the perils of going through such turnover. We’ll see if they get it right this time around.