FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The New England Patriots stuck with their recent draft pattern — making deals and taking defensive backs.
For the fourth straight year, the team traded in the first round and picked a new secondary member early, taking cornerback Devin McCourty of Rutgers with its opening selection on Thursday night.
In 52 college games, McCourty had six interceptions, three fumble recoveries, 2½ sacks and two forced fumbles. He also excelled on special teams with six blocked punts, one blocked field goal attempt and a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
“For Devin to be a first-round pick, it just speaks volumes to his work ethic, his abilities and the type of person he is,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said.
McCourty’s twin brother Jason is with the Tennessee Titans, who drafted him in the sixth round last year.
The Patriots’ greatest need heading into the three-day draft appeared to be for a pass rusher. Their 31 sacks last year were more than just seven other teams and averaged less than two per game. But when the 27th pick came up, coach Bill Belichick chose McCourty.
“I actually ran to the bathroom and my brother heard my phone ringing,” McCourty said. “He came banging on the door and said, ‘answer the phone, answer the phone.’ And as soon as I got out of the bathroom I was answering the phone. I was talking to coach Belichick.”
The Patriots bypassed pass rushers Sergio Kindle of Texas and Jerry Hughes of TCU, who were still available at No. 27.
Hughes was chosen by Indianapolis with the 31st pick. Kindle remained available but was unlikely to last until the Patriots’ next pick, the 44th. They also have two other choices in the second round, the 47th and 53rd overall. They have one pick, the 90th overall, in Friday’s third round.
“There’s an emphasis on every part of the defense,” Belichick said. “It’s a long time before we play a game, so we’ll see where things are at that point in time.”
The last four rounds are scheduled for Saturday.
New England began the day with the 22nd choice but sent that to Denver for the 24th pick and the fourth of the fourth round. Shortly after, it traded the 24th selection and the 21st of the fourth round for the 27th overall and the 27th of the third round.
Belichick said he expected McCourty to still be available with the 27th pick but would have been prepared if he wasn’t.
“There were other players we had value with,” he said. “I think we would have gotten a similar value player on 27.”
McCourty joins a secondary that includes 2007 first-round pick Brandon Meriweather, a safety, and three second-rounders — cornerback Terrence Wheatley, taken in 2008, and safety Pat Chung and cornerback Darius Butler in 2009.
“Just having a lot of young guys, I think we’ve just got to come in and try to learn,” McCourty said.
The Patriots allowed 25 scoring passes last year, bringing their total to 75 over the last three seasons. In 2006, opponents threw just 11 scoring passes against them.
The weakness was most glaring last season against two of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. Peyton Manning of Indianapolis threw four touchdown passes, and Drew Brees of New Orleans threw five.
Belichick said McCourty is a rare defensive back because he can play on all four downs — the first three on defense and the fourth on punt plays.
“There aren’t too many players who can impact the game” that way, Belichick said.
McCourty’s 98-yard touchdown came on the opening kickoff of Rutgers’ 28-24 upset of Connecticut last Oct. 31.
“If you’re able to just make some plays on special teams it could be the tiebreaker within the game,” he said. “I take it very seriously.”
McCourty joins a team whose top competition in the AFC East, the New York Jets, have an outstanding secondary with cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, an All-Pro, and Antonio Cromartie.
McCourty said he has learned from watching Revis.
“When you turn on the TV in my area on Sundays, Darrelle Revis is always on,” he said. “I just try to see some things he did and add them to my game.”