Jones, Hightower on rookie radar

The extensive coverage of the pre-NFL draft process allows followers of the game to familiarize themselves with the available prospects, from the surefire top picks to those who will likely be taken in the late rounds of the proceedings.

Prior to the 2012 NFL draft, Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones was being talked about in the vein of a high-upside prospect who would need time (perhaps a couple of years) to develop into a refined product.

Fast-forward to the midway point of the 2012 regular season, and Jones, now a Patriot, has shown that he was ready-made to not only play in the NFL, but be an impact player. He leads all rookies with six sacks, and is the top defensive rookie in the league, according to NFL.com's Gil Brandt, a longtime NFL personnel man who recently released his list of the top 20 rookies.

Jones has firmly established himself as a starter within the Patriots' defensive front, and is the team's top pass rusher. He's shown an ability to do more than just pressure the quarterback too, as he's proven himself capable to stop the run and even drop into coverage on occasion.

Not far behind Jones on Brandt's rankings is fellow first-round pick Dont'a Hightower, taken four spots after Jones. The linebacker has basically been a starter when he has been healthy, playing alongside Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes. He dropped in at No. 20 on Brandt's rankings, and Brandt says of Hightower, "when he's healthy, he looks like he's going to be a dominant outside linebacker."

The pair of rookies has combined for 58 tackles, eight sacks, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery to date.