New England Patriots: A Draft In Review
Patrick Chung, SS, Oregon - With the 34th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots selected Patrick Chung. A big, strong safety with experience at SS, FS, and CB, Chung could be making an impact with the Patriots by week one. A big hitter, Chung racked up 90 tackles last season, two sacks, forced a fumble, and returned an interception for a TD while helping to lead the Oregon Ducks to a win over Oklahoma State in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl, where he had 10 tackles. On a safety-thin roster playing in the secondary with Brandon Meriweather, the Patriots went with need and most talented at the position here by picking up Chung. With Rodney Harrison possibly out of the mix, Pats fans could see Patrick Chung and Brandon Meriweather roaming the field this season for the Patriots.
Ron Brace, DT, Boston College - Are the Patriots switching to a 4-3?, Are they comfortable playing a 3-4 with the team's current corps of LB?, All these questions came to front when the Patriot selected Boston College defensive tackle, Ron Brace, with the 40th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. Playing alongside B.J. Raji, Brace’s numbers may not jump off the stat sheet, but at NT, he’s a true space-filler with an excellent initial push. He’ll have the luxury of playing beside Vince Wilfork, similar to his situation at Boston College, where he was never expected to be the best tackle on his line. Brace excels at stuffing the run and bumping backs out of the gap. I love the talent, but I'm not thrilled about going with a DT so early.
Darius Butler, CB, Connecticut - Here’s a pick that was probably expected by just about every Patriots fan on the planet. Between attending his pro day, to the interviews and pro workouts, it seemed like a given that Darius Butler would be taking the two hour ride from Connecticut to come play in Foxboro. Having seen Butler, I’ve always been impressed with his coverage ability, but on a man-on-man assignment, he still leaves much to be desired. At one point, Butler was a two-way player, playing wide out as well as defensive back, so he can make things happen with his hands, although his numbers at DB in college wouldn’t show that. With Ellis Hobbs traded to the Eagles, Butler could find himself playing quite a bit this season behind Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs.
Sebastian Vollmer, OT, Houston - A huge OT at 6’7’’, 312 pounds, this pick has me a bit baffled, but this would begin an infusion of youth along the Patriots' offensive line. With very little football experience and coming off of back surgery, Vollmer is a project with tremendous upside. I’ve seen him ranked as highly as the seventh to ninth best offensive tackle and within the top 100 talent in this year's draft. But then I’ve also seen him ranked out of the top 10 OT’s and barely cracking the 150 overall talent. So the verdict is still out on Vollmer. But with 90 percent of the Patriots' O-Line on the final year of their contracts, the Pats rolled the dice on Vollmer and went with need, maybe even more so than overall value.
Brandon Tate, WR, North Carolina - With the 83rd overall pick, the Patriots went with the second UNC receiver, Brandon Tate. Before Tate tore up his knee, he was projecting as high as the first round and a look at some tape will show you why. He possesses excellent hands, a great first cut, and is a major asset on special teams. However, Tate does come with some red flags. He’ll be entering the league in the NFL’s substance abuse policy, he’s coming off a major injury right now, and his route-running capability has come under fire as of late. Still, at this position, to get a talent like Tate, even if it isn’t so much a need, it warrants a high grade.
Tyrone McKenzie, OLB, South Florida - At 97th overall, McKenzie is my favorite selection this year; just watching his tape and watching him play last season, he seems like a prototypical Patriot. Not the most gifted athlete by any means, but a non-stop motor, pure effort guy who will give you 100 percent on every play. McKenzie finished up last season with 116 tackles and over 350 total tackles in his time as a Bull. Looks like a natural born leader on the field, and could play right away as a SAM linebacker with the Pats. Great value at 97th overall as a LB who was not only ranked within the top 100 overall talent, but can contribute immediately.
Rich Ohrnberger, OG, Penn State - And the infusion of youth along the O-Line continues, this time with former Nittany Lion, Rich Ohrnberger. I don’t know much about Ohrnberger other than the fact that his size seems to be his biggest knock. Jamon Meredith was still on the board, who projects to be able to play both OT or shift over and play OG, and after watching some tape on Ohrnberger, well, I’m not impressed. I understand trying to restock the offensive line, but I just don’t see the value here.
George Bussey, OT, Louisville - Another OG who has concerns over his size and strength...great! Here’s another spot where Jamon Meredith was available and we pass to go with the 6’3, 301 pound George Bussey out of Louisville. This pick would officially finish off the Patriots' attempt at retooling the offensive line and thank god, because this pick, along with Ohrnberger, left me scratching my head. However, to Bussey’s credit, after watching some film, I was more impressed with him than I was Ohrnberger. He played on a line that was a bit spread and he seemed to be able to close the gaps fairly well. On the strong side, he looked like a major liability and his footwork didn’t impress, but he looked a fair share better then Ohrenberger did on tape.
Myron Pryor, DT, Kentucky - Pryor has shown the ability to move from NT to the outside, and after watching the tape on him, I was pleasantly surprised with Myron Pryor. He has a great push on the front line and showed the ability to open up gaps for his LB to get through on the rush. He’ll struggle against most NFL centers, simply due to his size and lack of upper body strength. But again, a spot where I felt there was overall better talent to be had here, and I didn’t quite understand the decision to go DT here, which brings down my overall grade for the selection.
Julian Edelman, WR/QB/HB, Kent State - Patriots couldn’t get Pat White, so they wait for Julian Edelman to fall to 232nd overall. Out of the late round selections (207-234), I like Edelamn’s chances to make the team more than anyone else selected within those picks. A spread option QB in college, Edelman’s value ultimately lies as a WR or special teams player at the NFL level. Edelman ran a reported 4.48 second 40-meter at pro day and has recorded a 4.41, so the vertical speed is there. He may ultimately pan out as a strict special teams player or, at best, a fourth option in a four-receiver set, but there is some good value in this selection this late in the draft.
Darryl Richard, DT, Georgia Tech - And Mr. Irrelevant for the Patriots is (drum roll please)…Darryl Richard out of Georgia Tech! Now at this point in the draft, I began throwing half-eaten pizza crust and empty soda cans at my television, cursing the Patriots organization for passing on Rashad Jennings. A third DT for the Patriots, although each differs a bit in skill set; I just don’t get it. It just brings us back to the question, will the Patriots be playing a 4-3 defense in 2009?
Overall Grade: B-
I'm tempted to give the Patriots a bit lower grade here, but I have to take into account the $2.2 million that comes off the books with the Ellis Hobbs deal. I also had to consider the fact that we were able to parlay two third round picks and two fifth round picks in this year's draft into an extra seventh rounder, two 2010 second rounders, and two 2010 fifth rounders. I think we are looking at 5-6 sure-fire players out of this draft that will make the team in Chung, Brace, Tate, Butler, McKenzie, and Vollmer. And knowing the Patriots, don't be shocked to see Julian Edelman make the team's roster.
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