2012 NFL Draft: With Jones and Hightower in the Mix, What Fronts Can the Patriots Run?

Apr 26, 2012; New York, NY, USA; Dont'a Hightower (Alabama) is introduced as the number twenty-five overall pick to the New England Patriots in the 2012 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall.

When the Patriots picked up defensive end/linebacker Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont'a Hightower in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, there was no question that the Patriots had injected their front seven with more young talent than any time in recent memory. Chandler Jones has the potential to become a Willie McGinest-type of elephant defensive end / outside linebacker, with his long frame and powerful rushing ability. Dont'a Hightower, meanwhile, can be a "do everything" type of linebacker for the Patriots, with the ability to line up at just about any linebacker position in any front.

That being said, with these two in the mix, I thought it would be a fun idea to do a quick run-down of all the possibilities that the Patriots have now along their front seven. Specifically, tonight, we'll look at the base 3-4 and base 4-3 looks that the Patriots could run with these two:

Base 4-3

LDE: Chandler Jones

DT: Kyle Love

DT: Vince Wilfork

RDE: Rob Ninkovich

WLB: Jerod Mayo

MLB: Brandon Spikes

SLB: Dont'a Hightower

Analysis: In the base 4-3, Chandler Jones immediately slides into the left defensive end spot, with Dont'a Hightower taking over the strong-side linebacker spot from Rob Ninkovich. Ninkovich, meanwhile, shifts over to the right defensive end position. Kyle Love, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, and Brandon Spikes all retain their usual spots. With these additions in the 4-3, by 2013, the Patriots could have the best front in the entire league. The Patriots will also be deep here, with Jonathan Fanene and Brandon Deaderick rotating in at defensive tackle or end, as well as Dane Fletcher being able to come in at any linebacker spot.

A look at the 3-4 after the jump!

Base 3-4

LE: Vince Wilfork

NT: Kyle Love

RE: Jonathan Fanene / Brandon Deaderick

LOLB: Chandler Jones / Dont'a Hightower

WILB: Jerod Mayo

SILB: Brandon Spikes

ROLB: Rob Ninkovich

Analysis: At this point, in the 3-4, there seems to be a little more uncertainty. Neither Chandler Jones nor Dont'a Hightower figure to contribute along the defensive line in this scheme. Chandler Jones seems like a potential fit as a LOLB considering his length, but he could also play ROLB to begin things until he adds a little more weight. Dont'a Hightower would figure to begin as the top back-up to Brandon Spikes at SILB, but considering his edge-rushing experience, could probably figure into either outside linebacker spot. Rob Ninkovich returns to ROLB after playing LOLB during the postseason. Jermaine Cunningham and Trevor Scott could also both figure into the outside linebacker rotation. Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love stay at left end and nose tackle respectively, while Jonathan Fanene competes with Brandon Deaderick for the right end spot. Overall, if the Patriots plan on running the 3-4 a lot in 2012, they would probably like to add a defensive end into the mix. Kendall Reyes, Devon Still, Derek Wolfe, and Alameda Ta'amu are a few players that come to mind that are still on the board. For now, however, it appears the Patriots will be strongest in the 4-3.

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Richard Hill takes a look at the same question here.

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The NFL Draft returns to primetime in 2012. Catch all of the excitement of the 2012 NFL Draft on NFL Network April 26 - 28

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