There's always a mad rush to grade the NFL draft minutes after its conclusion as pundits give their opinions on how a team did from a value and needs perspective.
The truth of the matter is, we won't know how well those teams did the day after the draft. We may not even know a year after the draft. The best time to provide perspective on a draft is three years after the fact, when the body of work is large enough to help draw solid conclusions.
With the 2012 season in the rear-view mirror, now seems like a good time to look back at the 2010 draft class.
How did the Patriots do? Let's take a look back and give them more accurate grades than any immediate context could have provided.
CB Devin McCourty—First Round, 27th Overall
It's been an up-and-down three years for McCourty, but his play in 2012 fell into the "up" category. He began the season on a high note at cornerback, allowing 51.4 percent completions and a 70.1 passer rating into his coverage through the first six games.
Then, he was moved to safety—not for his own play, but for the play of his teammates (and a few timely injuries to boot). The Patriots were said to be keeping him at safety for the 2012 season, so it didn't come as a huge shock when he was moved back to the position.
What was a surprise, however, was how well he played. Despite playing just 10 regular season games at the position, ProFootballFocus.com graded him out as the 14th best safety overall in their cumulative ratings ahead of many solid safeties who played every game.
The Patriots didn't get exactly what they wanted out of McCourty, given his position change, but with a full offseason to learn his new position, McCourty could continue his emergence as a top-flight safety. That would make this pick a hit, from this perspective.
TE Rob Gronkowski—Second Round, 42nd Overall
You don't earn a nickname like "Gronk" unless you're an absolute beast. That's what Gronkowski has been since joining the Patriots.
His size made him a red-zone threat from Day 1, and combined with surprising quickness in and out of his breaks, he is one of the most difficult tight ends to cover anywhere on the field. He has caught 73.6 percent of passes thrown his direction over the past three years, and Patriots quarterbacks have earned a passer rating of 140.9 throwing to him in that span, with a whopping 41 touchdowns against just four interceptions in the regular and postseason combined.
One question with Gronkowski is his health. He entered the league coming off back surgery for spinal stenosis, and has suffered three injuries which required surgery in a 12-month span. An ankle injury slowed him down significantly in Super Bowl XLVI while two separate forearm injuries kept him out of five regular season games and the AFC Championship game.
When healthy, though, Gronkowski is still one of the best tight ends in the game. To have grabbed him in the second round could be considered nothing short of a steal at this point.
DE Jermaine Cunningham—Second Round, 53rd overall
The Patriots were hoping to find a diamond in the rough in Cunningham, who was the first "hybrid" defender Belichick had ever drafted in the first two rounds.
Cunningham's career trajectory has been a lot like McCourty's—he started out strong, although his production didn't show up on the stat sheet except for one sack he had as a rookie. His 2011 season was marred by injury, and he was active for just nine games while playing only 48 snaps.
However, something interesting happened in 2012. He was plugged in at defensive tackle as a pass-rusher in some sub packages. He got an opportunity to line up at defensive end in Weeks 11 and 12 when Chandler Jones went down with an injury during the season, before being suspended four games for PED use.
He finished 2012 with four contributed sacks total (one solo, three half-sacks). He hasn't been an incredibly consistent pass-rusher, though, creating pressure on just 8.1 percent of his rushes.
That's part of the reason the Patriots are still looking for help at defensive end on the free-agent market.
LB Brandon Spikes—Second Round, 62nd Overall
This was another case of Belichick taking a player for what he was on the field over what his athletic abilities suggested he could be.
He ran a sluggish 5.0 40-yard dash, but Spikes was an emotional leader for a championship defense at Florida, and showed all the instincts and toughness that have helped make him a solid middle linebacker for the Patriots. He made his presence felt in 2012 with a #PoWwWwW by forcing four fumbles.
That being said, his lack of speed has come back to haunt the Patriots at times as they continue to struggle covering tight ends over the middle and running backs out of the backfield.
It's fair to wonder whether he'll develop into a three-down linebacker, but his role in run defense is vital in any case.
WR Taylor Price—Third Round, 90th Overall
"This is the week Taylor Price breaks out," say random Patriots fans and analysts, at least once a week for Price's entire time with the Patriots—leading all the way up to his eventual release from the team.
Instead, this has become just another example of the Patriots' failures to draft and develop talent at wide receiver. He caught just three passes for 41 yards in a Patriots uniform, and had a hard time even cracking the roster as a rookie until finally being put into the lineup in Week 17. He was active for three games in 2011, but failed to make a single catch.
It's because of failures like Price that the Patriots continue their search for talent at receiver.
TE Aaron Hernandez—Fourth Round, 113th Overall
Getting Hernandez in the fourth round has to be considered one of the top steals of the 2010 draft. His career approximate value ranks him ninth among all picks from all rounds that year. His short-area quickness combined with his size have made him a matchup nightmare, difficult to cover whether by a linebacker, safety or cornerback.
Injury concerns have emerged, as Hernandez has missed at least two games in each of his three years in the league and 10 games total.
How were the Patriots able to land Hernandez—who was extremely productive at Florida and has been just as productive since—in the fourth round? A couple of reasons. First, many wondered where exactly he fit in an NFL offense. He doesn't have prototypical size for an NFL tight end, so many thought he would be put in an H-back role in the NFL. There were also some character concerns around his time at Florida, namely his use of marijuana, which caused his stock to drop.
If only those front offices and GMs could turn back time, I'm sure they would look a little less critically at those concerns and take him for the athlete he was in college and has continued to be in the NFL.
P Zoltan Mesko—Fifth Round, 150th Overall
Being the Patriots punter can't be easy. You sit on the bench for inordinate amounts of time, and then you're expected to do your job at a high level.
Mesko has the fewest punts of any punter to play all 48 games over the past three seasons, and his 175 attempts is not far off from a few punters that have played almost a full season's worth of games less than Mesko. Despite so few opportunities, he has maintained a very respectable average of 44.2 yards per punt. His 46.5 yards per punt average was tied for the 10th highest in 2011.
There were consistency issues with Mesko at first, but in 2012, 18.3 percent of his punts (11 out of 60) landed inside the opponent's 20-yard line. That was by far the best average in the league. Part of that may have had to do with the Patriots' outstanding field position, but that's a remarkable point of consistency.
He has become more well-known for his incredible hang time and the unique spin he puts on his punts as a left-footed punter than he has for his numbers. On an unrelated note, his mustache wins.
C Ted Larsen—Sixth Round, 205th Overall
The Patriots have always done a good job of finding solid linemen in late rounds of the draft. While their success has been attributed at times to Dante Scarnecchia's prowess as an offensive line coach, Larsen turned out fine even without the league-renowned position coach.
Larsen didn't make the final cut in 2010, but it didn't take long for him to emerge as a starting guard for the Buccaneers. He was the starter at left guard for 11 games in 2010 and 13 games in 2012.
In short, the pick itself was good, but the Patriots may presently regret what they did with the player afterward.
T Thomas Welch—Seventh Round, 208th Overall
Welch has bounced around between four different teams, including two stints with the Patriots. He was a practice squad player for the Patriots, Vikings, Rams and Eagles, and lined up with the starting unit against the Raiders in 2011.
Welch played a total of 42 snaps for the Patriots, so while the return on him was better than nothing, it was marginal at best.
DE Brandon Deaderick—Seventh Round, 247th Overall
Belichick went with his SEC bias again on this pick, going to a reliable pipeline in Alabama where his good buddy Nick Saban mans a similar defense to the one Belichick runs.
In his three years with the Patriots, Deaderick has served as a versatile linemen, lining up as an end in the 3-4 or as a tackle in the 4-3. His best season came in 2011, when he logged nine pressures and three sacks according to ProFootballFocus.com.
His role has increased over the years while the Patriots have searched for help with the interior pass rush, and though Deaderick has given them that rush at times, he hasn't provided it on a consistent basis.
Still, the Patriots picked up a valuable role player for their defense who has played 34 of a possible 48 games. He even made his presence felt in the Super Bowl by logging a sack on Eli Manning. All for the low price of a seventh-round pick.
DT Kade Weston—Seventh Round, 248th Overall
Weston played his college football at Georgia, where he was a role player at different spots on the defensive line, including nose tackle and defensive end. His role at Georgia was similar to Vince Wilfork's with the Patriots, in that he was a space-eater on the inside of the defensive line, clogging multiple gaps at once.
He never got a chance to show that ability for the Patriots, though, as he was put on injured reserve before the 2010 season began and then waived by the team prior to the 2011 season. He has since bounced around from the Colts practice squad and most recently to the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL.
QB Zac Robinson—Seventh Round, 250th Overall
Robinson earned a reputation at Oklahoma State while throwing the ball to Dez Bryant and Justin Blackmon. He wasn't the OSU prospect most Patriots fans wanted at the time—that was Bryant—and the token late-round backup quarterback proved to be one of the least valuable quarterbacks to pass through New England since Kevin O'Connell in 2008.
Rest assured, he passed right through. He was released before the 2010 season even began, and has floated around to four different practice squads in his three-year career. The Patriots drafted Ryan Mallett the next year.
Gronkowski and Hernandez are two picks that have set the Patriots offense up for success, even despite the departure of Wes Welker and Randy Moss since their arrivals. The two have been so good that the Patriots have based their entire offense around them.
McCourty's grade could be even higher if he develops into the top 10 safety that he's shown the potential to be. Spikes has limitations, but has been an emotional leader for the defense and his ability to play downhill has made him a solid add for a second-round pick.
We're still waiting for Cunningham to emerge, and to truly define his role.
What grade would you give the Patriots 2010 draft class?
In all, six of the team's first seven picks, and seven of the 12 total picks, are still on the roster. The Patriots get a lot of flack for struggling to draft talent from 2006-2009, but it's arguably the 2010 draft class which has helped keep them a contender over the past three years.