The New England Patriots grabbed a replacement for Super Bowl hero-turned-scapegoat Malcolm Butler on Friday night with their only pick on the second day of the NFL draft.
A day after using their two first-rounders to pick a pair of Georgia Bulldogs for the offense, the Patriots went back to the Southeastern Conference to select Florida cornerback Duke Dawson. The 5-foot-10, 197-pound Florida native led the Gators with four interceptions last season.
Butler had a pretty big interception of his own to clinch the 2014 NFL title. But in this year's game he was inexplicably benched even as Nick Foles threw for 373 yards and three touchdowns against the New England defense.
Butler's absence was never explained; he signed with Tennessee as a free agent.
"Malcolm Butler was a great player," Dawson said in a conference call with reporters. "He's one of the top corners in the league, in my opinion."
Director of player personnel Nick Caserio praised Dawson's versatility and competitiveness. He said they had looked at him a year ago, when Dawson was considering declaring for the draft early.
Dawson played in 48 games at Florida but only as a senior did he start every game.
"He may not have started but he's played a lot of football," Caserio said. "This guy has played a lot of football against a lot of good people and in a good program."
The Patriots picked offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn at No. 23 and Sony Michel at No. 31 on Thursday in the first round. They entered the second day of the draft with two second-round picks and one in the third, but then coach Bill Belichick began dealing.
In the afternoon, he sent the 95th overall pick to San Francisco for offensive lineman Trent Brown and a fifth-rounder next year. Belichick took the No. 43 selection, which New England obtained from the 49ers for Jimmy Garoppolo last year, to Detroit for Nos. 51 and 117.
Then he sent the No. 51 pick to Chicago for No. 105 and a second-rounder next year. And he sent the Patriots' own pick in the second round this year, No. 63, along with the No. 117 to Tampa Bay for the 56th overall pick, which they used to select Dawson.
If nothing else, the trades made it nearly impossible for Belichick's critics to judge whether he got good value for Garoppolo, who had been the heir apparent to five-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady at quarterback.
With Brady playing at MVP level again last season at the age of 40 _ and looking over his shoulder at his replacement _ Belichick shipped Garoppolo off to San Francisco midseason for a second-rounder. Garoppolo led the 49ers to five straight wins at the end of the season.
Asked if the dealing had the added advantage of making it difficult to pin any one player as the guy they got for Garoppolo, Caserio said, "You guys will parse that tomorrow. That's not our job."