FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – The New England Patriots keep using the draft to build a formidable young defensive line.
The defending Super Bowl champions drafted Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown with the 32nd and final pick of the first round Thursday night, hoping they’ve found a replacement for five-time Pro Bowler Vince Wilfork.
They used their first-round pick on a defensive lineman for the third time in four years, following Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones in 2012 and Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley last year.
And just like he did with those two, coach Bill Belichick is reserving judgment on what Brown can contribute.
“He’s got a long way to go, like every rookie does coming in,” Belichick said. “It’s a lot different in this league.”
Brown agreed, saying he doesn’t assume he has a job locked up.
“I’m just relentless,” he said. “I want to be the best I can be.”
Defensive tackle became a priority when Wilfork signed with the Houston Texans after spending all 11 of his NFL seasons with the Patriots.
At 6-feet-2 and 319 pounds, Brown is similar in size to Wilfork and started every game the past two seasons — the first under Mack Brown and the next under Charlie Strong. Brown played on the outside more last year than he did in 2013.
“You just saw him in some different situations, different matchups,” Belichick said. “There’s plenty of film on this guy against some good competition.”
Easley played in 11 games last season before going on injured reserve with injuries to both knees that required surgery. He participated in just under 25 percent of the snaps.
But he and Brown have a much better pedigree than the Patriots other returning defensive tackles. Alan Branch, Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga were signed as veteran free agents, while Joe Vellano joined the Patriots in 2013 as an undrafted free agent.
Brown had been projected in many mock drafts to be taken earlier, but Belichick scoffed at those.
“One draft’s got him at 15, another’s got him at 65,” Belichick said. “I don’t put a lot of stock in it.”
Brown said his pre-draft contact with the Patriots wasn’t much different than what he had with other teams.
“There’s always that doubt” about being taken in the first round as the draft progressed, he said, but “(I’m) just trying to add what I can to a great program.”
The Patriots also need help at cornerback after last season’s starters left as free agents — Darrelle Revis to the New York Jets and Brandon Browner to the New Orleans Saints.
New England’s returning cornerbacks are Kyle Arrington, Malcolm Butler, Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan. Butler’s interception in the end zone in the final minute preserved the Patriots 28-24 Super Bowl win over the Seattle Seahawks. Since then, New England has signed veteran cornerbacks Chimdi Chekwa, Bradley Fletcher and Robert McClain.
But they remained stable at safety with Devin McCourty, who signed a long-term contract after the season, and Patrick Chung.
The Patriots could go for a running back in one of Friday night’s two rounds after losing Stevan Ridley to the New York Jets and Shane Vereen to the New York Giants. Their only proven running back is LeGarrette Blount. They also have Jonas Gray, Brandon Bolden, 2014 fourth-round pick James White and Travaris Cadet.
They also might choose an offensive lineman with guard Dan Connolly still unsigned after a subpar season.
There’s also the perennial need for a wide receiver, a spot where they have Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola.
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