Jermaine Cunningham was one of three Florida Gators to be selected by New England in the 2010 NFL Draft. The Patriots took Cunningham 53rd overall in hopes of developing the 6'3", 266-pounder into an pass rushing outside linebacker in their 3-4 defensive scheme.
In his sophomore season in 2007 Cunningham started at defensive end for the majority of the season. He recorded 64 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and 12 tackles for a loss in his first season with extended time on the field.
Cunningham started 13 games in 2008, finishing second on the team with six sacks. He also notched 10 tackles for a loss and added in three forced fumbles.
During his senior season in 2009, Cunningham compiled 34 tackles and seven sacks, good enough to rank second on the team. He again made his presence known in the backfield finishing fifth in the conference with 12 tackles for a loss.
Cunningham was a second-team All-Southeastern Conference selection in 2008 and 2009 and he completed his college career with 19.5 sacks—tied for tenth on the Gators' career sacks record list. He also notched five forced fumbles in his time at Florida.
Cunningham saw the field in 15 games as a rookie for the Patriots earning 11 starts at outside linebacker. He wasn't a prolific pass rusher in his first season, but he was able to get one sack and added 34 tackles, two forced fumbles and a pass defense.
Cunningham is in an intriguing situation for the upcoming season. He will be entering his second season with tempered expectations due to a lack of production as a rookie. He's also only 23 and has a well documented history of getting to the quarterback successfully.
The Patriots thought enough of him last year to make him a second round selection and with a very real need still present at outside linebacker, this former Gator will be given every possible opportunity to make the job his own.
Cunningham made 11 starts at the position last season as an inexperienced rookie and the Patriots have only made one addition at OLB—sixth round pick Markell Carter.
With no additional competition currently on the roster, Cunningham has a clear and legitimate chance to start in 2011 and display what he can do given a full 16-game season.
Look for New England to increase his pass rushing reps this season in order to determine the real value of this second rounder.