Now that it's been four years since the 2012 NFL Draft, enough time has passed to objectively grade how the Patriots draft class from that year worked out. The Patriots drafted DE Chandler Jones from Syracuse, LB Dont'a Hightower from Alabama, DB Tavon Wilson from Illinois, DE Jake Bequette from Arkansas, ST Nate Ebner from Ohio State, CB Alfonzo Dennard from Nebraska, and WR Jeremy Ebert from Northwestern.
1st (21): Chandler Jones, ED, Syracuse: A-
The Patriots had the Saints first round draft pick from a draft day trade from the previous season. The Patriots were initially expecting Jones to go to the New York Jets 16th overall, but the Jets wound up taking Quinton Coples instead. The Patriots had initially planned on taking Shea McClellin from Boise State, who went to Chicago at 19th overall. After McClellin wound up being selected, the Patriots traded up to draft Chandler Jones who many people had as a consensus Top 20 prospect that year. Jones gets an A- only solely because the Patriots were not able to get him on a 2nd contract, although that's more the Giants' fault than the Patriots.
Jones performed as you would expect from a first rounder. In his four years in New England, Jones put up double digit sacks in two of them. In his Patriots career, he put up 36 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, intercepted a pass, and scored two defensive touchdowns. Jones though was more of a volume stat player and didn't have the hits and hurries that you would expect from a 10+ sack guy. Even though Jones did not get a second contract from the Patriots, I would have to say that he was a successful draft pick. The Patriots wound up trading him for a 2nd round pick and Jonathan Cooper. The 2nd round pick turned into Joe Thuney and Malcolm Mitchell thanks to another draft day trade with the Saints.
1st (25): Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama: A
The Patriots not only traded up once, but twice in the 2012 NFL Draft. The Patriots accessed the Nick Saban pipeline with this pick, taking Alabama LB Dont'a Hightower after trading up with the Broncos. Hightower quickly became a starter in the Patriots defense, with his ability to play the run and cause havoc on blitzes making him a valuable asset. Hightower slimmed down from 270 to 260 in order to adapt more to the open nature of NFL offenses these days.
Hightower has developed into the Patriots most valuable defender for his aforementioned ability to play downhill. Pro Football Focus graded him with the best Pass Rush Productivity of All NFL linebackers and had made their Top 101 list not once, but twice in a row. Hightower is a priority to extend for the Patriots long term since they trust him to call the plays on defense and have everyone lined up.
2nd (48): Tavon Wilson, S, Illinois: D-
This pick was the example of a reach pick in a historically weak safety class. Predictably, the pick did not pan out. The Patriots drafted Wilson as a nickel defender and moved him to safety. A Week 6 game where Wilson got lost in coverage against the Seattle Seahawks wound up being his career epitaph in New England. Wilson was more suited to play a box role, but the Patriots wound up moving on because Wilson was not good enough in coverage that they could trust him on defense. He made a cameo as a Moneybacker in the Patriots playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens in 2014, but otherwise had an inconsequential career as a defender and will be a career special teamer.
3rd (90): Jake Bequette, ED, Arkansas: F
Jake Bequette never really amounted to anything despite solid production and athletic numbers. The Patriots recently tried to convert him to TE, but that never materialized as well. Striking out on this pick really stunk because the Patriots didn't wind up picking for another 107 spots.
6th (197): Nate Ebner, ST, Ohio State: A
The Patriots found a diamond in the rough with Nate Ebner, who has carved out a niche as a top special teams player in New England. Ebner has had some good moments, such as recovering a Broncos muffed punt that led to a Stephen Gostkowski game-winning field goal. Ebner is often asked to be the personnel protector in the punt formation and plays in the Patriots Goal-Line packages due to his ability to tackle well. The Patriots rewarded Ebner with a 2-year contract in the offseason and realistically he's going to be around as long as Bill Belichick wants.
7th (224): Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska: B-
Early on, it looked like the Patriots would wind up with a draft steal with Dennard. Dennard was considered a first round pick until bombing the pre-draft process highlighted by punching a cop in a bar fight just days before the draft. As a result, Dennard wound up dropping all the way to the top of the 7th round, where the Patriots took a flyer on a troubled, but talented player. The Patriots struggles at CB eventually led to Dennard taking over the starting RCB role in the 2nd half of the season where he performed admirably.
Dennard had posted a strong 2012 and 2013 campaign, but after that is when the wheels fell off for him. He picked up a DUI arrest after the 2012 season, which didn't help considering what happened the offseason before. In 2014, Dennard had started the first four games at RCB before the Patriots decided to activate Brandon Browner in his stead. After getting bumped from the lineup, the Patriots waived him following the 2014 season and he hasn't surfaced anywhere. Patriots still get a favorable grade because he was useful for two years.
7th (235): Jeremy Ebert, WR, Northwestern: No Grade
Ebert did not survive final cuts. He briefly appeared on their practice squad, but his career ended up like a lot of 7th round picks.
The Patriots were masterful at navigating the first round for two superb talents that panned out nicely. After Jones and Hightower, the 2012 draft was a resounding failure with their best pick being a 6th round special teamer, but the draft grades includes those two. The inability to get value on the 2nd day of the draft is why it's a low B and not an A. The Patriots made up for it somewhat with a strong showing on the 3rd day of the draft. Hightower and Ebner are still around after the 2012 draft and with Hightower developing into a Pro Bowl caliber player, you can consider the draft very successful as a whole.