Patriots 2009 Draft Grades: Cornerback earns an A

Grading a draft pick this early is like a kid evaluating his Christmas loot on December 23rd.  The intriguing packages are right there in front of him - wrapped, tagged, peered at and examined a million times as best he can through the paper.  But no matter how often the presents are picked up, squeezed or shaken, unless it's a Lego set there's no way he can be completely sure of what he's getting.

With their 41st pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, the Patriots selected what they hope will be as sure a thing as Legos:  UConn CB Darius Butler.  Projected to be a first-rounder, Mike Reiss didn't think he'd still be on the board for them to take at number 23, which in my book makes him a steal at number 41.  NFL.com and Draftguys.com's Sigmund Bloom provide a quick look at Butler's pros and cons.

Why he will succeed:

  • He's the top two or three all around athletes in this class of corners.
  • Elite vertical and lateral explosion, and excellent straight line speed.
  • Has a great feel for the game.
  • Gets his shoulder on the ball to force fumbles.
  • Holds off blocks to force quick screens inside.
  • Closes quickly and wraps up to prevent gains after catch.
  • Returns kicks; caught 8 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown as a receiver in '08.

Why he might fail:

  • Very lanky.  He might get pushed around by bigger, thicker receivers.
  • Trusts his athleticism too much at times, giving receivers too big a cushion.
  • Unproven in his ability to defend against the run.
  • Not particularly strong on the line or able to get off blocks.

It's no secret that Patriots Nation was hoping for a couple of young and speedy Linebackers to fill the void left by Vrabel and an aging Bruschi, but the Butler pick looks better and makes more sense each day.   With Ellis Hobbs traded to the Eagles, Butler joins 3-year veteran Mike Richardson, 2008 Draft picks Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite, and the recent free agent signings of Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden.

Can the Patriots now cross Cornerback off their list?  It all looks good on paper for now.  Minicamps, OTA's, training camp and the end-of-summer pre-season games will unveil more of the story.  Barring any Fernando Bryant-like repeats of waltzing opposing team's receivers into the end-zone, I'm pretty sure Darius Butler and the rest of the corner crew has this position covered.

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