2011 NFL Draft: A Look Back at the New England Patriots' 2010 Draft Selections
With the 2010 season having come and gone, the New England Patriots were so good at times that most forgot they were in a rebuilding year. The defense was—and still is—extremely young. The offense premiered two young running backs, a couple of rookie tight ends and a scattered offensive line. The reason behind this slip of the mind may be due to the fact that Bill Belichick and company drafted extremely well.
With just two more Mondays to go until we hit the next draft week, it's time to look back at last year's selections for the New England Patriots.
Which picks are considered good, or smart? Did the Patriots make a mistake in selecting someone? How did each player perform this past season?
Without further ado, let's get started.
Round 1, Pick 27 (27): Devin McCourty, CB
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The selection of McCourty by the Patriots in Round 1 was surprising, to say the least.
Though the talent throughout the draft at the cornerback position was relatively weak, McCourty was not regarded as first-round talent. So what did the Patriots see in him?
While at Rutgers, the two-time All-Big East academic and one-time All-Big East first-teamer was an athlete. In addition to being a solid coverage guy, McCourty blocked four kicks at Rutgers and averaged over 25 yards per kick return his senior year. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick loves players who can participate on special teams in addition to their normal position.
In his first season as a Patriot, McCourty recorded 82 tackles with seven interceptions and one sack. He defended 17 passes in 16 games.
He also recorded a spot on the 2011 AFC Pro Bowl roster. It's been a while since Patriots fans felt comfortable with a defensive back, but McCourty seems like he will be that player for years to come.
Round 2, Pick 10 (42): Rob Gronkowski, TE
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Very rarely does a rookie translate his efforts from the preseason to the regular season. Most people probably didn't know—myself included—that Gronkowski had scored four touchdowns through the Patriots' four preseason games last year. Only two other players scored four times in that span.
Yet the former Arizona tight end did not flame out. He played each game with vigor, making 11 starts and finishing the season with 10 touchdown receptions on 42 catches for 546 yards.
His best game came in Week 10, where he caught three touchdowns against the Pittsburgh Steelers. His worst? The week prior; a 20-point loss to Cleveland where Gronkowski dropped several balls, fumbled a short kickoff and fumbled near the goal line.
It's safe to say that this was a great pick, especially when you consider that Gronkowski missed his entire 2009 season at Arizona following back surgery.
Round 2, Pick 21 (53): Jermaine Cunningham, DE
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Jermaine Cunningham was a little bit of a surprise coming in the latter portion of the second round. With two bigger names still on the board in USC's Everson Griffen and Ohio State's Thaddeus Gibson, the Patriots went with the Florida product.
New England needed help on the defensive line, but more importantly, they needed youth. Cunningham saw 11 starts, his first coming in Week 3. He replaced Tully Banta-Cain, and quietly worked his way towards 27 tackles with one sack and two forced fumbles.
Second-round draft picks typically take a season to mold, and you're okay with seeing limited production compared to first-rounders. Cunningham should fit this mold perfectly, and will only continue to grow now that he will have a complete offseason under his belt with his current team.
Round 2, Pick 30 (62): Brandon Spikes, LB
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With the selection of Brandon Spikes, the Patriots briefly appeared to be either A) smart for drafting two Florida defensive guys, seeing as Florida continually had extremely good defenses over the past few years, or B) lazy for drafting two guys from the same team, both of which they could have seen at Florida's pro day.
It later proved that New England most likely fell under the first category.
Spikes is rather well known for his days as Florida's emotional defensive leader. And potentially for that whole eye-gouging thing.
Spikes was a three-time All-SEC selection, having been a first-team All-American his latter two years with the Gators. He also won two SEC titles along with two BCS national championships.
It's a very rare thing that the Patriots would select such a decorated defensive player. Most New England defenders are humble. With that being said, it was unclear as to how Spikes would perform, but more importantly, it was unclear as to how he would behave.
There was a minor hiccup with a four-game suspension for "illegal drug use." This came about after Spikes failed to tell anyone he was taking ADHD medicine. A substance within the medication tested as positive. Spikes served his suspension—the remainder of the 2010 season—and resumed play in the playoffs.
He finished with 61 tackles and an interception.
Patriot fans should be looking forward to this guy playing next to Jerod Mayo for years to come.
Round 3, Pick 26 (90): Taylor Price, WR
This pick has yet to be determined as good or bad.
Price attended Ohio University where he is currently the school's leader in receptions, and second in receiving yards. He was listed as inactive for the first 15 games, but in Week 17 caught three passes for 41 yards against the Miami Dolphins.
Price should see a significant increase in playing time as he will have spent an entire offseason with the team, and New England needs help at the wide receiver position.
Round 4, Pick 15 (113): Aaron Hernandez, TE
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If I told you that a fourth-round pick—who also happened to be the youngest player on any NFL roster—would be one of your team's better offensive threats, would you believe me?
Well, that's exactly the role that Hernandez played last season for New England.
The tight end was the third Florida player to be selected by the Patriots in the 2010 NFL draft. The only reason he fell to the fourth round might have been his multiple failed drug tests as a Gator, testing positively for marijuana use.
But regardless, his talents were on display last season. Through 14 games, the Connecticut native caught six touchdowns on 45 receptions for 563 yards.
New England has to be excited about having this kid on its roster. He can run great routes, he has solid hands and he is a big and physical guy. Hernandez lined up as a wide receiver at times while at Florida, but he also ran some option plays from the wingback position. Expect to see more of this in 2011.
Round 5, Pick 19 (150): Zoltan Mesko, P
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As mentioned in another article of mine, the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick love to draft special teams players, and they typically do it before anyone else.
Mesko was the first specialist to be drafted, and for good reason. Coming out of Michigan, he saw significant playing time. Through 25 games over the 2007 and 2008 seasons, Mesko punted a remarkable 150 times.
The most remarkable thing about Mesko might not be related to football. The Romanian-born player can speak five languages. Maybe more impressive is the fact that during the current lockout, Mesko is working as an intern for a private Philadelphia-based equity firm.
Either way you look at it, Mesko seemed to be a great pick. He averaged 43.2 yards per punt, good enough for 19th in the league. That's better than 13 other professionals, and he did it as a rookie. He should be wearing a Patriots uniform for many, many years.
Round 6, Pick 36 (205): Ted Larsen, OL
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Bill Belichick has a unique draft-day philosophy. The Patriots selections are either based on team needs, or the Patriots will select the best available player, depending on A) who is left on the board and B) where in the draft they are.
Last year's first sixth-round selection was exhausted on a North Carolina State offensive lineman. Larsen was twice listed to the Rimington Award watch list during his college career, given to the best offensive lineman in the country.
Larsen did not last long with the Patriots, as he was cut by the team in early September. He did manage to find a starting spot, though, in Tampa Bay. Larsen played in 12 games last year, starting 11.
The Patriots will most likely be drafting at least one offensive lineman this year, but you cannot fault them for taking a chance with a sixth-round pick on a guy.
Round 7, Pick 1 (208): Thomas Welch, OL
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Thomas Welch is another guy the Patriots took a chance on in the later rounds.
After a mildly productive career at Vanderbilt, Welch was selected with the first pick in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL draft. He was cut on the same day as the aforementioned Larsen, and eventually ended up with Minnesota.
The only difference between Larsen and Welch is that Welch was offered a spot to learn and grow on the Patriots practice squad. Welch declined that offer, and has yet to start a game.
Round 7, Pick 40 (247): Brandon Deaderick, DE
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Brandon Deaderick was another seventh-round guy the Patriots took a chance on. He ended up seeing the most playing time of any last-round selection.
Deaderick played in 10 games, starting four, recording 10 tackles with one sack.
It will be interesting to see how his career plays out in New England. Deaderick, at times, looked great. He also looked lost, which is only normal when it comes to rookies.
New England would love to have his big body mold into a productive defensive end, so it will be interesting to see how the Patriots work with him this offseason once team workouts commence.
Round 7, Pick 41 (248): Kade Weston, DT
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Weston saw great success as a freshman at Georgia, and quieted down as his college career progressed. Nevertheless, he was selected just seven spots from Mr. Irrelevant in the 2010 NFL draft.
Weston did not see the playing field last year. He was on New England's injured reserve list in August.
Weston will have to fight mightily to see the field this upcoming season, especially if the Patriots select another interior defensive lineman in the 2011 draft.
Round 7, Pick 43 (250): Zac Robinson, QB
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Robinson was arguably the most decorated player selected in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL draft. With that being said, he was only five picks away from being Mr. Irrelevant.
But the transition to the NFL from college is a tough one to make, and spread offense quarterbacks do not typically make that transition smoothly.
Robinson is just another quarterback the Patriots took a chance on in the late rounds to potentially fill Tom Brady's backup position.