Around the web and print media, excluding yours truly of course, the 2010 Patriots Draft Class was widely panned (see Borges, Ron) for having eschewed some more well-known names for guys that “nobody had even heard of” – the likes of Devin McCourty, Jermaine Cunningham, and others.
Six weeks into the season, it is time for us, and you, to weigh in on how the rookies are developing in the Patriots system.
Devin McCourty was picked, much to the discontent of current NY Jet and former Boise St. cornerback Kyle Wilson’s supporters, to be the cornerback of the future for the Patriots.
At this point in his career, McCourty has lived up to his billing, with upside to spare.
He has played very smart, and shown the ability to stick to receivers when he is asked to. He has been beaten a few times, but he has been asked at times to play with no safety help on some talented receivers. His tackling has also been superb.
Rob Gronkowski, although not unknown, was certainly not on the casual fan’s radar heading into the 2010 NFL Draft, as he sat out the entire 2009 NCAA season with a back injury.
Now fully healthy, Gronkowski, nick-named Samurai, has certainly been a large part of the Patriots offensive game-plans. While he probably hasn’t lived up to being a “Japanese warrior who was a member of the feudal military aristocracy”, the warrior part definitely fits.
His blocking on the edge has relatively good, save for a couple of whiffs early in the year. Gronkowski has also been a solid addition to the passing game, catching 7 balls for 86 yards and 2 TD’s. In the red-zone and the seam, the former Arizona Wildcat has certainly found his niche.
Jermaine Cunningham was a guy that few had heard of prior to the draft, and many were disappointed when he was selected ahead of favorites Ricky Sapp, Greg Hardy, Austen Lane, and others.
After battling through some early injury issues in training camp, Cunningham has won the praise of a guy whose words certainly hold sway in the minds of Patriots fans–Bill Belichick.
“I thought Jermaine played very aggressively. He certainly had some good plays, some big plays. He had a good pass rush there, got a holding [call] on Oher. Made some plays in the running game. He still has a long way to go, but he’s working hard and I thought he did play very aggressively, which is what we need at that position.”
Not easily attained words for sure, and if he continues his rise at the OLB position, there may be some more in the future.
Brandon Spikes was a household name to many, gracing the screens of many a NCAA fanatic when Tim Tebow was taking a break on the sideline.
His tortoise-slow times leading up to the draft proved to be a godsend for the Patriots, who picked up his services late in round two. While that lack of straight-line speed has rarely been noticeable on the NFL field, his toughness and instincts have allowed him to rack up 31 tackles in his first five games in the league.
Spikes’ gap discipline has been a bit suspect at times, but Belichick’s message seems to be getting through. Combining with Jerod Mayo and a host of defensive lineman, the Patriots held Ray Rice to just over three yards a carry last weekend.
While the #55 Jersey certainly makes it difficult, Spikes has the potential to live up to the former players that wore it before him.
Taylor Price has really been the only disappointment of the Patriots 2010 Draft so far, as he has yet to be active for a game.
Price looked a bit timid and unsure of himself in pre-season, which is very dissimilar to the tough receiver we saw on the field at Ohio. Many Patriot fans are second guessing the pick, watching Mardy Gilyard and Mike Williams having productive season.
It is far too soon to make a judgment on Price, and we’re looking forward to seeing his progression at some point this season.
Aaron Hernandez, like Gronkowski, has his own Japan-inspired nickname: Ninja. Those shadowy skills have been on display all season, mystifying clueless defensive backs and linebackers on where the 20-year old Hernandez has disappeared to.
Hernandez’ 22 catches for over 300 yards have yet to directly result in a touchdown for the former Florida Gator, but his explosive plays (5 of 20+ yards) have certainly made things easier for the Patriots to put up points.
His blocking has been decent when it has needed to be, especially some aggressive down-field blocking on some runs and screens.
Hernandez and Gronkowski undoubtedly have a lock on the two of the tight-end positions for years to come.
Zoltan Mesko has provided the Patriots with a solid punter for the first time in ages. His nearly 42-yard net punting average is a full seven yards longer than Chris Hanson, who soured the mood of Patriots fans for way too long.
Mesko has also been very solid on holds, dealing with multiple sketchy snaps by Jake Ingram.
Brandon Deaderick and Kyle Love are the lone late-round picks to have made the roster, excluding undrafted free-agent Dane Fletcher. Love has yet to see meaningful playing time, while Deaderick earned his first start against the Baltimore Ravens, lining up at LDE.
Deaderick has been quietly efficient, chasing down Joe Flacco for a sack last week, as well as generally taking up space and blockers – exactly what a 5-technique defensive end is supposed to do.
With improvements in his technique taking hold, Deaderick could certainly evolve into a legitimate starting option on a weekly basis for New England.
Dane Fletcher has long been one of our favorite players, from before the 2010 NFL Draft, through training camp, cutdowns, and him seeing his first action as a Patriot.
Who was out there at ILB in overtime against the Ravens? Fletcher. Who had multiple sure tackles on pass-catchers to ensure the win? Fletcher. Watch this guy progress over the next few years, and we think that you will be amazed.