It?s far too early to get a complete read on the New England Patriots? 2009 draft class, as it typically takes about three or four years for NFL players to come into their own. But let?s take some risks and jump the gun, as we revisit the Pats? most recent draftees.
The Patriots took some heat for twice trading down in the first round. They entered the draft with the No. 23 pick but shipped it to Baltimore for the 26th pick and a fifth-rounder. The Patriots then traded the 26th selection and a fifth-rounder to the Packers for the 41st pick and a pair of third-rounders. With some intriguing prospects still on the board at the end of the first round — which made the trades doubly curious because those players fit the Patriots? needs — the Pats need to hope their quartet of second-round picks continues to pan out.
The Sebastian Vollmer selection caused plenty of ?Wait, who?? reactions in the Gillette Stadium press box, especially when many draft analysts believed the Houston product was a middle-round talent. Vollmer, the 58th overall selection, was described as a raw talent who needed time to maximize the talent in his 6-foot-8, 315-pound frame, but the tackle was dominant when pressed into duty after Matt Light?s injury in Denver. Vollmer will probably play right tackle in 2010, but it appears as though the Patriots have found their left tackle of the future.
This is a harsh label after just one season, but defensive tackle Ron Brace hardly lived up to his billing as the 40th overall pick. Of course, the Boston College product has plenty of time to turn it around, and the book is in no way closed. The theory is Brace was drafted to spell Vince Wilfork — and possibly replace him — but Brace didn?t perform well enough to earn consistent playing time. He registered just nine total tackles and no sacks, and he was inactive seven times. It also didn?t help Brace?s cause to see sixth-rounder Myron Pryor experience more success in his game reps.
The rest of the picks
Safety Pat Chung, second round, No. 34 overall: Chung played a number of roles in Oregon?s complex system, and his versatility and football intelligence figure to be a great fit in New England. He is a rock-solid hitter who played safety and slot cornerback, and he also had a large role on special teams. Chung will pair nicely with Brandon Meriweather, but it takes a few years for safeties to really develop in this system.
Cornerback Darius Butler, second round, No. 41 overall: Butler was part of UConn?s best draft class in history, and he looks like he?ll be a good cornerback for the Patriots. He?s got explosive speed and very good coverage skills, but Bill Belichick didn?t like using Butler — who is 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds — against bigger, more physical wide receivers. Butler had three interceptions and eight pass defenses in 14 games, including five starts. He also scored a defensive touchdown against Houston.
Wide receiver Brandon Tate, third round, No. 83 overall: The North Carolina product couldn?t overcome the knee injury he succumbed to during his senior season in Chapel Hill. He started the season on the physically unable to perform list and came off in time to play two games before being placed on injured reserve in Week 10. Tate had one rush on an end-around for 11 yards and returned four kickoffs for an average of 26.5 yards. He?s got the potential to be an exciting kick returner, but he?ll need to grow in the offense to help the team next season.
Linebacker Tyrone McKenzie, third round, No. 97 overall: McKenzie?s season ended when he tore up his knee in May?s rookie camp. He?s an extremely mature guy and he was a tackling machine in college. If he can get past the knee injury, he could give a real boost to the linebacking corps.
Guard Rich Ohrnberger, fourth round, No. 123 overall: The lineman was inactive for 13 regular-season games and the playoff contest against the Ravens. He was the last offensive lineman on the depth chart.
Offensive lineman George Bussey, fifth round, No. 170 overall: The Louisville product was placed on injured reserve prior to the regular season. He would have been a backup lineman if he remained with the active roster.
Long snapper Jake Ingram, sixth round, No. 198 overall: The Patriots seamlessly transitioned from Lonie Paxton to Ingram, who was flawless with his long-snapping duties. The Hawaiian native should be able to hold this job for a few years.
Pryor, sixth round, No. 207 overall: He?s short — 6-foot-1 and 310 pounds — but extremely powerful. The Kentucky product recorded 23 total tackles, two quarterback hits and one forced fumble in 13 regular-season games, and he was a pretty reliable fill-in along the line.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman, seventh round, No. 232 overall: The former Kent State quarterback progressed as much as any player on the team last season. Edelman was fairly unimpressive at the start of training camp, but he showed enough speed and athleticism to warrant more reps. Edelman battled through a series of difficult injuries in the regular season and caught 37 passes for 359 yards and one touchdown. He then caught six passes for 44 yards and two touchdowns in the playoff loss to the Ravens.
Defensive lineman Darryl Richard, seventh round, No. 234 overall: Richard was a good contributor on the practice squad, and the team rewarded him by reportedly doubling his salary — from $150,000 to $310,000 — which probably means another team was trying to sign Richard to its active roster.
Who they missed
It?s natural to look at the players who were drafted at Nos. 23 and 26, which were the two first-rounders the Patriots abandoned. The Ravens took tackle Michael Oher, who was great, but he?s a moot point because the Pats got Vollmer later. The killer is at No. 26, where the Packers selected linebacker Clay Matthews, who made it to the Pro Bowl and would have been a great fit in New England. Linebackers James Laurinaitis (Rams, No. 35) and Rey Maualuga (Bengals, No. 38) also slipped through the cracks.
In the Patriots? defense, they passed over West Virginia quarterback Pat White, who was taken by the Dolphins with the 44th pick. White has looked like a bust so far, but he was widely believed to be able to dominate the Wildcat formation.
In terms of depth, this could turn out to be Belichick?s best draft. Nearly every player saw time on the active roster or practice squad at some point in 2009. Vollmer, Butler, Chung and Edelman all have bright futures in the NFL, and there is still some potential for Brace, Tate and McKenzie.