Two players will forever be tied together in their NFL careers as two teammates who, in college, played the same position and who were selected back-to-back in April’s NFL Draft.
Their link may not be as popular as Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf (though not teammates in college, they were two heralded quarterbacks that went first and second in the draft and are constantly compared) but Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap will now forever be linked together in terms of their football experiences.
Cunningham, a senior, and Dunlap, a junior, were both members of the Florida Gators defensive line from 2007-2009. Both are naturally gifted athletes and both were big pieces on a National Championship team. Both also have checkered pasts that have come into question.
While they will answer many questions throughout their rookie year, the New England Patriots will have one big question to answer: which of these two was actually the better pick?
New England’s biggest need was pass rushing, from both the outside linebacker and defensive end positions. Many outsiders wonder if Cunningham will make the impact they hoped for from a second round pick.
According to Cunningham’s and Dunlap’s Gator bios, they each totaled 19.5 sacks in college, with Cunningham needing one more year than Dunlap to reach that number.
Dunlap gets the most fanfare and attention of the two, as well.
Dunlap was an All-SEC Second-Team selection in ’08 and a First-Team choice in ’09. He was the defensive MVP of the 2009 BCS Championship game victory over Oklahoma.
However, he gets his fair share of negative attention as well.
He was arrested on drunken driving charges his junior year, which caused him to be suspended for the team’s SEC Championship game. His motor is also questioned at times. With his DUI charge coming before such a big game and his reputation of not playing hard all the time, many wonder how committed Dunlap is to the game and his team.
Character issues are a big concern in the NFL today and Dunlap’s may have been a major turnoff to the Patriots, but Cunningham, an All-SEC Second-Team choice his senior year, isn’t squeaky clean either. In 2007 he was arrested for misdemeanor battery, and some question his maturity after a disappointing senior year.
Cunningham also underwent a shoulder procedure that made him miss the Senior Bowl. He would also be making the transition from defensive end to linebacker in the 3-4 defense New England plays, which is certainly not an easy task.
Dunlap is a monster at 6'6" and 240 pounds. With his size, skill, and the numbers he put together in college, he would have been an ideal candidate to immediately step in and take over the starting spot that has yet to be successfully filled since Richard Seymour was traded before last season.
So why Cunningham?
Bill Belichick and the rest of the Patriots’ decision makers must have felt that Cunningham’s off-field issues were minor compared to Dunlap’s and possibly behind him. Character has become a big deal in the league today and the Patriots have long coveted players with good standing. Dunlap may have had too many red flags for the Patriots’ taste.
They also must’ve thought that the outside linebacker spot would be harder to fill than the defensive end spot, especially after releasing Adalius Thomas, which made them even thinner at the position. The Patriots have recently signed Damione Lewis and Gerard Warren to use on the defensive line but no additions have been made to the linebacker position.
It is too early to know which player will have the better career and who would have made the bigger impact on for New England.
However, it is never too early to speculate, and these two players will be at the constant end of such speculation the rest of their NFL careers.
So did New England make the right decision by drafting Cunningham?