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New England Patriots: Underachieving Draft Pick with Best Chance to Make Roster

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 06:  Mark Sanchez #6 of the New York Jets attempts to escape the pass rush of Jermaine Cunningham #96 of the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 6, 2010 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images
Oliver ThomasContributor IJune 21, 2012

Like any NFL franchise, the New England Patriots have drafted players who haven't fulfilled expectations.

In 2009, the team selected defensive tackles Ron Brace and Myron Pryor. A year later, defensive end Jermaine Cunningham was drafted. All three players are still with the team but have struggled to make an impact. With that in mind, which player has the best shot at making the 53-man roster in 2012?

To answer that question, I asked Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston for his thoughts via a Patriots chat:

Oliver, Belichick was pretty high on Jermaine Cunningham at minicamp. So I'll go with him. But I do think Pryor, when healthy, has proven to be a pretty effective sub rusher from an interior position. It's just a matter of health.

While all three players are on the hot seat, Reiss's answer indicates that 2010 second-round draft pick Jermaine Cunningham is the most likely player to prove doubters wrong.

The Florida Gator has bounced around between outside linebacker and defensive end in his two seasons with the Patriots. But the transition has not been easy for the 6'3", 260-pound pass-rusher.

During his rookie year, Cunningham showed promise, lining up at outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive front. He started 11 of 15 games played, notching 34 total tackles, one sack and two forced fumbles.

However, Cunningham's second year in Foxboro was not nearly as successful.

Head coach Bill Belichick's staff switched the defense to a 4-3 scheme, which forced Cunningham back to his position at Florida: defensive end. He barely saw the field and played primarily on special teams, recording just one tackle all year.

Nine games into 2011, No. 96 was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. For Cunningham, his medical problems put a cap on an all but lost year of development.

Although, compared to 2009 second-round draft choice Ron Brace and sixth-round pick Myron Pryor, Cunningham stands out as the player with the most upside.

Brace, a Boston College product, has been limited to just 29 games during his three NFL seasons. He's shown little in terms of play-making abilities, accumulating only 35 tackles and a forced fumble. Entering his fourth season with the Pats, the odds of him making a drastic improvement are slim.

Health has also been a primary concern for Myron Pryor. The former Kentucky Wildcat has played in just 24 out of a possible 48 contests. When 100 percent, Pryor has proven to be a capable reserve defensive lineman who has amassed 34 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble. Nevertheless, injuries have marred his pro career thus far.

Training camp and preseason will play a significant role in determining New England's 53-man roster. Ultimately, Jermaine Cunningham's potential and flashes of promise give him the greatest chance of making the roster over Ron Brace and Myron Pryor, who are also on the bubble.

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