FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In the spirit of accountability, this is what I wrote on the morning of the first day of the NFL draft:
It can be easy to be influenced by the most recent game the team played, but in the end, my thoughts still trace back to Super Bowl LII and how the Philadelphia Eagles had little reason to fear anyone in the Patriots' front seven. The possibility of adding a high-upside prospect in the front seven could help address that.
It didn't happen -- the front seven wasn't addressed until the fifth and sixth rounds -- which has some asking if the New England Patriots should have been more aggressive.
There were trade opportunities to move up in the first round to pick a defender, but they elected to stay put and select offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn at No. 23. It turns out that pick was the pivot point that highlighted an obvious theme: It was a top-heavy defensive draft (to see four off-the-line linebackers go in the first 22 picks was rare), and then the bottom basically fell out of the high-end defensive prospect pool.
Perhaps the best statistic to reflect this was that 12 of the first 22 picks came on defense, and then starting with Wynn, 17 of the next 22 were on offense.
That's a steep cliff.
Furthermore, of the 17 defensive players selected within the draft's first 44 picks, teams gave up significant assets to trade up for five of them -- the Saints for pass-rusher Marcus Davenport (No. 14), the Bills for linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (No. 16), the Packers for Jaire Alexander (No. 18), and the Titans for Rashaan Evans (No. 22) and Harold Landry (No. 41).
So for teams like the Patriots, who were picking at Nos. 23, 31 and 43, this was the marketplace. If they felt strongly about a defensive player, waiting around for him to fall wasn't going to get it done. It would take an aggressive approach because the supply didn't match the demand.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio obviously didn't feel strongly enough to make that type of move, which probably reflects two things: There wasn't a must-have defender to them in reasonable trade-up range, and while the defense didn't look good in Super Bowl LII, they clearly don't view it as a desperate situation that warranted overpaying for one draft pick.
As much as they might have wanted it, they weren't going to force it.
As Belichick said before the draft, "The whole draft-need thing is -- I don’t really understand that. You put a card up on the board. That doesn’t mean the guy is a good player. I think it’s important to acquire good players wherever they are. If you take a player at a position that you might so-called 'need' but he’s not good enough to fill that need, then it’s a wasted pick. So I don’t understand the whole need thing. I understand player value, and that’s what we try to go by."
Which is what they did, solidifying their offensive line, running back corps and cornerback group with their top three picks.
And from a complete team-building standpoint, Belichick and Caserio can look at other moves already made on defense -- such as acquiring defensive tackle Danny Shelton and cornerback Jason McCourty in trades, getting injured linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Derek Rivers back on the field, signing free-agent pass-rusher Adrian Clayborn, and further development of others already on the roster such as Deatrich Wise -- and identify those as things that could help the unit improve from the last time they were on the field.
And, of course, there's still opportunity to add an impact defensive player in other ways, like trades (such as Jonathan Casillas in 2014) or free-agent signings (such as Rob Ninkovich when he first joined the team as an afterthought in 2009).
So this wasn't the decisive defensive bonanza that some Patriots fans were hoping for, similar to 2012 when the team traded up for Chandler Jones and Hightower in the first round. Those were shrewd moves and easy to get excited about because the Patriots were so aggressive.
They could have done something similar in 2018, but because they didn't in a year when top-quality defensive options were limited, the question naturally lingers: Did they do enough in the draft to help the defense?