NEPD Staff Writer: Dan Hope
Now three seasons removed from the 2010 NFL draft, it is time to look back on the New England Patriots’ selections from that year’s draft and evaluate the success or failure of each selection. The nine-part series, which will continue each Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the next three weeks, kicks off with first-round pick Devin McCourty.
The New England Patriots have used many early-round draft picks in recent years on defensive backs, and many of those picks have turned out to be disappointment. The Patriots ended up with a great player, however, in Devin McCourty, the No. 27 overall pick of the 2010 NFL draft.
Fresh out of Rutgers, McCourty became an immediate standout in the Patriots’ secondary, earning second-team AP All-Pro recognition as a rookie cornerback. He immediately established as the Patriots’ top cornerback and as a big-play defender, intercepting 7 passes and breaking up 17 more in his inaugural season.
In 2011 and 2012, however, his flaws as a cornerback became more exposed. While McCourty continued to be a big playmaker himself, he also was beaten for too many big passing plays. But after moving to free safety midway through this past season, he excelled at his new position, and appears to be the long-term starter for the Patriots at that position.
McCourty has terrific playmaking range, which really makes him an asset in the back middle of the defense. He does very well in deep coverage, which includes being used often as a single-high safety. And while he is not a big hitter or playmaker in run support, he is consistent at making tackles to clean up plays that make it into the back end.
What the Patriots now have in McCourty is one of the league’s top free safeties, but a player who can also slide outside and play cornerback when needed. He is the best playmaker in the Patriots’ secondary, and their best defensive back draft pick (reserving judgment for now on 2012 seventh-round pick Alfonzo Dennard) since they selected Asante Samuel in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft.
For one of the league’s better defensive backs, the Patriots got very good value on him as a late first-round pick. In a 2010 re-draft, he would likely be selected in the top 15-20 picks.
While he is not quite as good as the top two defensive backs drafted that year — Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden (No. 7 overall) and Seattle Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas (No. 14) — he is better than the other three defensive backs selected in that year’s first round: Houston Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson (No. 20), New York Jets cornerback Kyle Wilson (No. 29) and New Orleans Saints cornerback Patrick Robinson (No. 32).
McCourty figures to remain part of the Patriots’ long-term plans, and continue to provide big plays and stability to a secondary that has shuffled many players in and out in recent years.