Grading the 2010 Draft: New England Patriots 6 May Back in Play The New England Patriots entered the 2010 NFL Draft with a load of picks yet made several moves throughout the rounds and acquire even more. Defense would be the theme as the team is still trying to plug holes in the secondary and replace what is, for the most part, an aging linebacker unit. Tight end was also a priority and depth has also been an issue for the former Super Bowl winners in recent years. More than anything else New England needed to reverse the trend of what has been less than stellar drafting in recent years. After trading down with the Dallas Cowboys the Patriots surprised some by selecting Devin McCourty with the 27th pick of the draft. The secondary needs an infusion of talented cover corners and McCourty certainly offers potential yet questions surround this pick. With the pending release of Adalius Thomas on draft day plus the number of cornerbacks presently on the Patriots rosters, many wonder if this selection was in part to keep McCourty away from the New York Jets as much as it was to bring more competition to the defensive backfield. McCourty offers terrific upside and he’s a sensational special teams player, so from that point of view the choice is justified. The loss of Ben Watson in free agency meant the Patriots had to come out of the draft with a tight end and they selected Arizona junior Rob Gronkowski with the 10th pick of round two. There’s no denying Gronkowski’s talent as he shows himself to be a sensational pass catcher who gives effort as a blocker when he’s on the field. There’s also no dodging the obvious issue of his back injury, one which required surgery and forced him to the sidelines in 2009, and something that could be an issue down the road. This is a selection that comes with a great amount of upside potential as well as downside risk, depending on how Gronkowski’s back holds out over the long haul. New England hopes they bolstered their linebacker talent when they tabbed Jermaine Cunningham in round two. While we’ve always been fans of Cunningham we think the second frame was a bit of a reach for his talents. He showed explosion and quickness off the edge at Florida from his defensive end position but the question remains; does Cunningham possess the speed to play the linebacker spot on a fulltime basis in the NFL? Pre-draft workouts lends one to believe the answer is “no” but Cunningham struggled with a hamstring injury the months prior to April. Our bigger criticism is New England bypassed a number of talented rush linebacker prospects (Jerry Hughes/Sergio Kindle) available to them prior to the 42nd pick, which they used on Gronkowski. The linebacker spot was again addressed later in the round with another former Gator as Brandon Spikes was chosen with the 62nd pick. Spikes poor post season workouts were well documented here at TFYDraftInsider.net as was his unwillingness to run for scouts. The bottom line is Spikes is a terrific football player and one of the most violent defenders in this draft. If there’s a coach that will be able fit Spikes into a scheme which masks his deficient speed it will be Bill Belicheck. From an on the field performance we cannot quibble over this choice. Taylor Price was the team’s pick in round three and the speedy wide out was good value. Price is a terrific athlete that has displayed a lot of skill catching the ball. He’s father away from being NFL ready than most will admit yet his upside is terrific. Price has the tools to develop into a very good second wide out yet it may take some time for him to get there. In round four the team went back to the University of Florida and selected their third Gator of the draft, again addressing the tight end spot with the choice of Aaron Hernandez. From a pure football point of view the selection of Hernandez is great value and the pass catching tight end should quickly develop a rapport with Tom Brady. Then again it’s not a lack of talent that pushed Hernandez into the fourth round, rather well documented off the field issues which could keep him on the sidelines. For Hernandez, a change in his way of life is in order if he desires a long, productive NFL career. New England made Zoltan Mesko the first punter off the board in round five and the big legged kicker has the necessary tools to kick in the often inclement weather of the northeast. The biggest issue facing Mesko is his touch-to-toe time, or in layman’s terms, the ability to quickly get the ball away once he handles the snap. It’s been an issue for Mesko who looked terrible at the Senior Bowl yet was far and away the best punter during the combine. Center Ted Larsen was a solid sixth round pick and will fit the Patriots blocking scheme well. Larsen is not a dominant lineman yet fluid on his feet and shows the ability to annihilate opponents blocking in motion. More than anything else he’s a smart lineman, which is a prerequisite for the Patriots line. New England had four picks in the final frame and all were solid choices. Offensive tackle Thomas Welch is a terrific developmental prospect likely headed for the practice squad. He’s got the size and athleticism to compete at the next level but must really improve his blocking strength. The Patriots could use some inexpensive back-ups that can play multiple positions and Welch offers exactly that. Two defensive tackles from the SEC were chosen next. Both Brandon Deadrick and Kade Weston nicely project as defensive ends in New England’s 3-4 system and each has a contrasting style. Deadrick is not the greatest athlete but gets the most from his ability while Weston has a world of talent yet for the most part never met expectations in college. They both have the skill to make a roster, either with the Patriots or another franchise. Final pick Zac Robinson was an interesting choice. We were never high on Robinson’s next level ability, though to his credit he played well at the Senior Bowl then had a solid combine outing. We think he’s better off playing for a west coast/timing offense in a warm weather environment. That said the Patriots have had recent success taking projects at the quarterback position and turning them into next level players. Overview: In our opinions this is the ultimate boom or bust draft. Gronkowski, Cunningham, Spikes, Hernandez and Mesko could all be players in the league yet each has a number of red flag issues which could cut short their NFL careers or turn them into nothing but bench warmers. The team’s late round selections were all solid picks but the Patriots need impact from this draft after yielding little from the process in recent years.