So there I was last April, anxiously awaiting what I envisioned as the Patriots 2010 "Pass-Rush-or-Bust" draft with my own big board, which admittedly is based solely on the digital quality and musical selection of the draftee's (obviously close-family-member produced) YouTube highlight video.
My initial disappointment occurs when the can't miss Michigan product Brandon Graham predictably doesn't last to our pick at #22 (and by "can't miss" I mean there is no way Graham could ever end up somewhere like Philadelphia, start only six games, record only 12 tackles and 3 sacks, and blow out his ACL in week 14).
I regroup and set my sights on my back-up sure-thing: TCU's Jerry Hughes (and by "sure-thing" I am referring to the complete and utter impossibility that a player of Hughes' caliber could ever end up with the Colts, start zero games, record zero sacks and make only 6 total tackles).
Awaiting the 22nd selection, Bill Belichick pulls a fast one and potentially takes us out of what I began referring to as the "Jerry Hughes sweepstakes" by inexplicably giving away our #22 to Dallas for their #s 24 and 113. Especially troubling is the 113th pick which is all the way down in the 4th round, where all we find is a system TE named Aaron Hernandez who allegedly can't block, and who apparently has a little mark next to his name signifying "off-field issues."
No sooner do I get refocused on Hughes lasting to #24 when Bill Belichick decides to throw a bone to his former boy-wonder in Denver, sending #24 to the Broncos for their #s 27 and 90. (At this point I begin receiving several variations of the "are the Patriots sitting out this draft?" texts from numerous Patriot haters posing as my friends).
So there we are sitting at #27 with Hughes and even the highly-touted Penn State DE Jared Odrick still on the board (and by "highly-touted" I mean it would be laughable to think he could end up in a defensive system like Miami, appear in only one game, and record a season total of one tackle).
So what does Belichick do? He takes some DB named Devin McCourty...from Rutgers! Never heard of him! I did see one Rutgers game. It was when Greg Paulus diced up the entire Rutgers secondary on a 13 of16 passing performance with 142 yards and a TD in a 31-13 beat-down of Rutgers by a 4-8 Syracuse team. Didn't even notice McCourty. Not encouraging!
To make things worse, Belichick gets up in his presser later in the day and resorts to the old "he's strong on special teams" line. He seems to say that about every draft pick no one can make any sense of (see Pat Chung).
Either way, Hughes and Odrick disappear quickly at the end of round one and I'm left revamping my big board for day 2.
On my new big board the accomplished Texas OLB Sergio Kindle emerges as the fail-safe remedy for New England's defensive woes (and by "fail-safe" I mean that the only thing that could possibly impede his guaranteed success would be something random, like falling down a flight of stairs and fracturing his skull).
In an apparent move to pounce on Kindle, Belichick trades up with his perpetual mark, Al Davis, sending #44 and Derrick "ya-dig?" Burgess to Oakland for their #42. And the Patriots pick ...who? Rob Gronkowski, a TE from Arizona coming off of back surgery who hasn't produced a game highlight since the Bush administration. Again, not encouraging. To make matters worse, our "rivals-in-their-own-minds," the Ravens, swoop in and take Kindle at #43.
Garbage time sets in. Belichick trades #47 to Arizona for #s 58 and 89. He picks the Forgotten Gator, Jermaine Cunningham at #53. Instead of picking with #58 he sends it to Houston for #s 62 and 150. At #62 he picks the seemingly slowest LB at the combine, Brandon Spikes, (and to keep us guessing he follows that up by picking the fastest WR at the combine at #90, Taylor Price).
We fizzle out by giving away our 89th pick (from Arizona) to Carolina for their 2011 2nd round pick (how good could that be?), and by taking a punter, yes a punter (albeit with a very cool name: Zoltan Mesko) in the 5th round with the #150 we got from Houston.
Over the 2010 regular season there were several developments relative to this "not encouraging" draft class. Devin McCourty was simply outstanding. He was named to the 2011 Pro Bowl, selected to the Sporting News All Pro 1st Team, and the runner up Rookie of the Year. He finished with 82 tackles, 7 interceptions, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles, 17 passes defended.
Rob Gronkowski became the first rookie TE since the merger to score 10 TDs. He was nominated for Rookie of the Week three times (Weeks 10, 14, and 17) winning it twice (weeks 14 and 17). He ended the season with 42 receptions, 546 yards and 10 TDs.
In Week 2 against the Jets, Aaron Hernandez became the youngest player since 1960 to have over 100 yards receiving in a single game. He was named Rookie of the Week in Week 16 and finished with 45 receptions, 563 yards and 7 TDs, despite missing two games.
Brandon Spikes became an immediate starter and singularly the most statistically impactful linebacker on the Patriots with a "stop percentage" that placed him near the top of the NFL (as pointed out by ProFootballFocus.com in their "Brandon Spikes: Secret Superstar" analysis). He also is credited for some of the biggest plays of the year for the team's defense, including his 16 tackles against Baltimore, his interception of Mark Sanchez and twice stuffing Adrian Peterson on goal-to-go downs in the Vikings game, to name a few.
Zoltan Mesko was well worth the 150th pick. He set an NFL Rookie record for net punting average (38.4) and saved the Ravens game in OT with a 65 yard blast. Also, one of the untold stories of 2010 is the Mesko's seamless performance as holder under what would be difficult circumstances for any veteran, let alone a rookie punter. Considering the Week 9 season-ending injury to Stephen Gostkowski and the emergency signing of Shayne Graham, it is a credit to Mesko that the Patriots finished 8th in the league in FG percentage, including a perfect 12/12 by Graham.
It is worth pointing out that in Rick Gosselin's 2010 "Re-Draft" for the Dallas Morning News (which he "conducted" in Week 15), he selected McCourty (#27) #4 overall, Hernandez (#113) #19 overall and Gronkowski (#42) #30 overall. In Sports Illustrated's similar exercise a week later, Don Banks had McCourty going #15, Hernandez #21 and Gronkowski #27. In sum, Spikes at #62 gave the Patriots four first-round-quality picks with #s 27, 42, 62 and 113.
And what happened with those picks we traded away? Denver took Tim Tebow with our 22nd pick. Josh McDaniels ended up out of a job and John Elway has been working out QBs. Dallas took Dez Bryant with our #24. He is a gifted athlete who took to openly sulking during the Cowboys' 6-10 season. If his off field antics continue on their current trajectory his NFL experience will not end well. Oakland made a very good pick at #44 in Lamarr Houston. Arizona drafted LB Daryl Washington at #47. He ended up starting the last four games and should continue in that role. He had 78 tackles a sack, forced fumble and an interception. Carolina took WR Amanti Edwards with our #89. Edwards appeared in three games, had zero receptions, zero yards, one rush for 7 yards and a lost fumble. (The Edwards pick turned out to produce what has become by all accounts the most valuable pick in the 2011 Draft: the first pick of the 2d round, #33 overall, belonging to New England).
As for the dreaded "he's strong on special teams" line, I swore never to roll my eyes at that again after watching pretty much the entire 2010 season that showed everyone that special teams truly do constitute one-third of the game. Specifically, doubters should re-watch the 41-14 game in Miami (see Pat Chung), or simply take a look at the Chargers who ranked 1st overall in both offense and defense, but found themselves sitting home during the playoffs because they couldn't cover a punt or a kickoff, or even punt or kick off.
I'm going to try to remember all this next week as I sit there with my big board anxiously awaiting what I'm envisioning to be the Patriots 2011 "Pass-Rush-or-Bust" draft. I'll also heed the advice of Dustin Pedroia which should apply equally to Belichick's manipulation of the draft: Laser Show, Relax!