DAY 1 RECAP: Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower & the Rebirth of the Patriots Defense

My Dear Patriots Nation,

Today, Mike Shea is walking on goddamn sunshine. For months now I’ve been bracing myself for the fact that two of my favorite players in college football: one superstar raw talent in the making, and one was a 3 year staple in my regular FBS watching and Crimson Tide fanboy-ing would never be drafted by my New England Patriots. Belichick, you finally read my love letters. You finally understand. Today I know that they’re both Patriots come this fall and I’m strutting around like Shawn Michaels in a mirror shop. Yes, Sir. Day 1 of the 2012 draft was very good to me.

Build: 6-5 266 lbs
40 Yd Dash: 4.85 Combine
Years Started: 2
Patriots Fit: 4-3 DE / 3-4 OLB
Relevant Stats:

2011 38-30 UA 7.5 4.5 2 3

I was maybe 12 years old and I was helping my dad draft for my younger brother’s basketball team. We’re standing there in the gym watching all these little kids run around hucking basketballs everywhere when in walks this towering woman. She was a tall African American woman probably bordering somewhere around 7 ft who, even in her 40’s with a pair of scratched up glasses hunched over in a cheap looking beige Marshalls winter jacket, looked like she could dunk on anybody there. My dad turned to me quietly and said “we need to find the kid that goes with that mom.” Sure enough he did, and spent a first round pick on a kid who would be his starting center. The Lesson: Genetics Matter.

I didn’t know Chandler Jones was of the same Endicott, NY Jones family that produced UFC light heavyweight champion Jon “Bones” Jones until after the 2011 season. I only knew him as an under the radar DE that was being billed as a deceptive 2nd rounder. He was an honor roll student at Syracuse. He comes from a family of athletes (his older brother Arthur was a DE drafted by the Ravens). And to top it off he’s, in my humble opinion, the best raw defensive talent in this draft or the last.

His 40 time isn’t anything spectacular, but that’s not his specialty. He uses that big lower body to get the quickest 1st step off the line that I’ve seen in this entire draft. He uses thse 35 1/2 inch arms to separate from blockers. He has violent hands, and his pass rush is developing. He’s an elephant 3-4 DE in the body of a lanky OLB. He’s Richard Seymour’s soul in the form of Aldon Smith’s body. Make no mistake, Jones is still raw but this guy has all the tools to terrorize in the NFL.

Build: 6-2 265 lbs
40 Yd Dash: 4.62 Combine
Years Started: 3.5 (Started as a true freshman, took Medical red-shirt in 2009)
Patriots Fit: Wes/Sam/Mike Linebacker / 4-3 DE / 3-4 MLB
Relevant Stats:

2011 85-41 UA 11 4 1 7

There are a handful of guys that were the reason I watched college football over the last 2 years. Three of them played for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Two of them were running backs. The other one was Dont’a Hightower. For months building up to the draft I posed the question over and over: If I’m Belichick sitting there in the late 20’s and Hightower is still on the board, do I grab him? For my money Hightower was one of the top 5 defensive players in this draft. He was absolutely everywhere all the time for Alabama. He was a playmaker at any spot they put him. But his primary position is a spot where the Patriots have 2 key starters in Jerod Mayo, and Brandon Spikes. Well championship coaches draft the best player available. If the rest of the league didn’t recognize it then that’s their fault. You’d better believe Baltimore had Hightower in their sights and that’s why the Pats moved up to grab him. What were they going to do, let their biggest competitor in the AFC sit there and grab another Ray Lewis just because everyone had mocked it that way? I love this pick.

Inside. Outside. Put Hightower anywhere and he can make a play. The intensity of the Alabama defense reminds me of the Brandon Spikes lead Gators from 2009. Except this team won a BCS championship in maybe the most dominant defensive stand I’ve ever seen in college football. Dont’a Hightower was the leader of that defense. He’s a playmaker plain and simple with the frame and skills to play anywhere at any time.


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