Pats' 2012 draft class on fast track

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With the Patriots' 2012 draft class, it's about quality over quantity.

Despite just six selections, the Patriots' draft class has yielded one of the strongest early returns this season, highlighted by the play of top choices Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower and Tavon Wilson.

On Thursday, Jones told reporters that the fact he and his fellow rookies have made an early impact for their team feels good.

"Yeah, definitely. I feel like it's always a good factor for a rookie to come in and make an impact right away," he said. "That's good, that's what you're drafted for."

Jones was a prospect that many draft gurus suggested would need at least a year to develop, but paces all rookies with five sacks through just seven games.

He talked about how he and his fellow rookies hope to be long-term contributors to the team.

"Definitely. That's part of the whole draft process," he said. "When you go out and draft a rookie, you're not just trying to get a guy for a year or two, you're trying to get a long-term thing going on. That's good, that's always a good factor."

Hightower, picked just four spots behind Jones, said that while he doesn't spend much time thinking about the long-term prospects for his draft class, it's been good to see the positive impact it has made already.

"I don't know about any of that, but it just feels good to look over and see Chandler [Jones] and Alfonzo [Dennard] and Tavon [Wilson] and Nate [Ebner] and all the guys, we all got drafted together and we've been through OTA's together and all the offseason workouts and all that stuff together," Hightower said. "It feels good to see all the hard work and dedication that we put in, to see young guys out on the field and making plays and making an impact."

Besides missing a pair of games with a hamstring issue, Hightower is pleased with his progress as a rookie.

"Besides the two-week fall, I feel like I've been coming along pretty well," he said. "There's always room for improvement, so I'm definitely looking forward to that."

Hightower, who played 36 of 84 defensive snaps in his return to the field in Week 7 (and has been nominated as the NFL's Rookie of the Week for his performance), said he's doing everything he can to prevent the hamstring issue from arising again, and that there's "no looking back now." He pointed to increased stretching as an area of focus.

"Keep stretching, stay hydrated," he said. "All those things, make sure you're eating right, the weight thing, just more or less stretching more. That was probably my biggest problem, but definitely taking care of that now."