2010 NFL Draft Grades: How The New England Patriots Fared

Phil ShoreCorrespondent IApril 27, 2010

JACKSONVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 31:  Brandon Spikes #51 of the Florida Gators against the Georgia Bulldogs at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium on October 31, 2009 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Patriots 2010 draft class is certainly an interesting mix. There are no sure-thing stand-out studs, but there are quite a few solid players that certainly merit their respective selections. Still there are questions with a number of prospects as well as if the Patriots did enough to address their needs.

The Patriots again traded down in the first round, twice. Then with the 27th pick they selected Rutgers cornerback Devin McCourty. The pick surprised a lot of people who were expecting a defensive end or outside linebacker. McCourty also wasn’t projected to be a first-rounder.

However, after the McCourty pick, of the next 23 picks four cornerbacks were taken as well as three safeties. With such a run on defensive backs, it’s likely the Patriots would have been unable to obtain any of them, let alone McCourty, the man they targeted and desired.

So they selected him, without much fanfare. But he’s a good overall corner, an incredibly smart player and person, a good locker room guy, and he can also contribute immediately on special teams. Not to mention the Patriots don’t have the greatest secondary to begin with. He will fit in right away with New England.

The Patriots upgraded the tight end position, but not without questions.

The Patriots moved up in the second round to take Arizona’s Rob Gronkowski and then selected Florida’s Aaron Hernandez in the fourth round.

Gronkowski is said to be arguably the most complete tight-end in the draft. He has the size and strength (six-feet-six-inches, 264 pounds) to be a good blocker, something a Patriot tight end must be efficient at as that is their first responsibility. He also is able to get down the field and getting open in the passing game.

Although Hernandez isn’t going to be a pure tight end for the Pats because of his deficiencies as a blocker he is one of, if not the best pass-catchers at the position. He does a great job of getting yards after the catch. He is another toy for Brady to play with and he provides plenty of new opportunities and looks for New England’s offense.

However, Gronkowski missed the entire 2009 season with a back injury. Is he durable enough to stay on the field? Hernandez, reported by the Boston Globe, failed at least one drug test in college (for marijuana) which scared off teams. Was drafting two players at this position, both with big question marks, necessary?

Drafting two tight ends means that another position of need went unfulfilled. The biggest question about the Pats 2010 draft class is if they did enough to improve their awful pass rush.

Essentially, New England only added two players in this area: second-round picks Jermaine Cunningham and Brandon Spikes, both also from Florida.

Cunningham amassed 145 tackles and 18 sacks over his four years with the Gators. He will make the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker in Bill Belichick’s 3-4 defense, which could be a challenge. Couple that with Cunningham’s disappointing senior season and he certainly has his work cut out for him.

Spikes dropped on the draft board because of an incredibly slow 40-yard dash time. However, as with the majority of the combine, should a team really place that much stock in the combine and Pro Days? (Has Vernon Gholston, a work-out-wonder in the combine really panned out for the New York Jets?) The Patriots are confident in what Spikes did on the playing field rather and on tape. He’s a very physical player and hits hard. He is a promising prospect that many fans are very excited about.

That’s it though. For a team that had pass rusher as its top priority coming into the draft, not much was done. Does Belichick really think free-agent signings Damione Lewis and Gerard Warren are the answers?

The team drafted Michigan punter Zoltan Mesko in the fifth round. The Pats need a punter coming into the season, and Mesko was the best player on the board at this position.

They also added to their stable of young receivers, selecting Taylor Price from Ohio in the third round. His best asset is his speed, which could also be useful on kick returns.

Possibly the best move of the draft for the Patriots was a move when they didn’t select a player at all. Coming into the draft the team had no third round picks. Through the trade downs Belichick acquired two. The one not used on Price was then parlayed to Carolina for a second-rounder in 2011. This is quite a move, especially when you consider the Patriots already have Oakland’s first-rounder next season.

So the team came out of the draft adding depth, versatility, and talent to their receiving corps (tight end and wide receiver). They picked up one of the most complete corners in the draft. They brought in a couple promising linebacker prospects. They got a punter that they needed. They also came away with a high draft pick next year in exchange for something they didn’t even have coming into the weekend.

Still, they didn’t do much to address their glaring weakness in the pass rush. Cunningham still needs work, Spikes doesn’t play on the outside, and the team just released Adalius Thomas, making the position even thinner.

What the Patriots did do was bring in players with the intangibles that Belichick desires. Five of the teams’ selections were captains of their respective teams. The Patriots are in dire need of leadership, someone to step up alongside Tom Brady, after they got a beat-down from the Ravens in the opening round of the playoffs last season. With this pool of players they got leadership, maturity, and good football players.

It may not be exactly what everyone expected or hoped for, but New England put together a pretty successful draft. There is still some work to be done this off-season on the roster and these players still have to develop and transition from the college game to the NFL, but there is a lot of promise in this year’s class.