It’s still a bit premature to make any serious conclusions on some of these players, but there’s no harm in trying. If you missed our review of the 2009 class, click right here.
The Patriots had to forfeit their allotted first-round draft pick due to the Spygate fallout, but because of a shrewd trade during the 2007 draft, the Patriots still had the 49ers’ first-round pick to fall back on. Luckily for the Pats, the Niners were atrocious in the 2007 season and graciously awarded the Patriots with the seventh overall pick. As if Spygate didn’t rile up the Patriots enough — remember all the times they ran up the score in 2007 — they got another chance to stick it to the league with a top-10 draft pick.
The top of the 2008 draft was littered with stars, and the Patriots could have gone in a myriad of directions. They traded the seventh pick to the Saints to slide down to 10th (and pick up a third-rounder), where they picked up Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo. The 2008 Defensive Rookie of the Year has led the Patriots in tackles in two consecutive seasons, and he was named a captain in 2009. The future is extremely bright for Mayo, who has the potential to be the best defensive player in football. He has averaged 8.7 total tackles per game in his two-year career, including 5.7 solo stops per game.
It might be a little ironic that the trade that yielded Mayo also landed Michigan outside linebacker Shawn Crable, whose short career has two more season-ending injuries than games played. Crable is a physical specimen — 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds — and he was a torturous pass rusher in college. However, he missed 2008 with a shin injury and 2009 with a groin injury. It’s a shame, too, because Crable had a very good 2008 preseason and showed some promise, but it’s unclear whether or not the 78th pick will ever play a game in New England.
The rest of the picks
Cornerback Terrence Wheatley, second round, No. 62 overall: The speedster from Colorado had a strong start to his rookie year, but it was derailed when he suffered a season-ending wrist injury against the Colts. Then, Wheatley was nowhere to be found in 2009. He was inactive in 12 of the Patriots’ 17 games, including the playoffs, and was the last cornerback on the depth chart.
Quarterback Kevin O’Connell, third round, No. 94 overall: This guy had an interesting tenure in New England. The Pats’ coaching staff was heard to be ecstatic by landing O’Connell in the third round of the draft because of his upside, and it was thought he’d be groomed as Tom Brady’s potential successor — or, at the very least, a capable backup for a few years. The San Diego State product seemed to be doing well in his role up until the 2009 training camp, when he fell into a slump with a string of poor practices. Before he knew it, he was cut and wound up with the Jets.
Cornerback Jonathan Wilhite, fourth round, No. 129 overall: Wilhite has been very hot and cold for the Pats. The former Auburn cornerback created momentum with a great finish to his rookie season, and he followed it up with a tremendous training camp in 2009. Wilhite then struggled with a late-summer shoulder injury and had a bizarre incident outside of Cumberland Farms in the hours leading up to the Pats’ Week 3 game against Atlanta. The strong, physical defensive got it back on track after that, but he was torched in Week 10 by Reggie Wayne — add Wilhite to the list of corners who can claim that — and never seemed to recover.
Wide receiver Matt Slater, fifth round, No. 153 overall: The Patriots traded up seven spots to select the UCLA product, whose father is Hall of Fame tackle Jackie Slater. Matt Slater is one of the two or three fastest players in New England, and he is a very valuable gunner on the punt team. He has been given ample opportunities as a kickoff returner, but he has been less than impressive, averaging 17.5 yards per return with a career long of 31 yards.
Linebacker Bo Ruud, sixth round, No. 197 overall: This was a flier on a guy with good genetics. His brother, Barrett Ruud, is an emerging superstar middle linebacker in Tampa Bay, but it never panned out for Bo Ruud, who spent his rookie season on injured reserve. He has since had short stints with the Browns and Buccaneers, but hasn’t played in the regular season.
Who they missed
This is obvious the eternal “what if” game, but running backs Kevin Smith and Jamaal Charles were each taken within the 10 picks after Wheatley and Steve Slaton was selected later in the third round. And the Colts took wideout Pierre Garcon eight picks after Ruud. It’s still a little too early to get a great read on this draft class, but it wasn’t overly deep so it’s tough to criticize the Patriots for any real whiff jobs.
There are a few ways to grade a draft, and it really varies by philosophy. The Patriots got Mayo, who is already one of the premier middle linebackers in the league and will be a staple of the Pats’ defense for years to come. The jury is still out on Wilhite and, perhaps, Crable. Anytime a team comes away with a no-doubt-about-it superstar like Mayo, though, they’ve got to pat themselves on the back for a job well done.