Everyone knows this story. In the 2010 Draft, in the second round, the Patriots used one of their precious draft picks on...Jermaine Cunningham? After a collective head scratch by everyone in Patriots nation, we began to become more and more comfortable with the idea of unheralded, but hard working, Cunningham as part of our outside linebacker core. As the summer developed, the thought of Shawn Crable finally emerging, next to Tully Banta-Cain and Cunningham made the outside linebacker position more solid of a position than it's been in a while.
Then Crable sucked and was out of shape and was cut. Then Cunningham was injured and missed all of the preseason games. Then the outside linebacker position was in worse shape than last year. Ouch.
Despite all of the summer praise heaped upon Cunningham, he was unable to show his stuff during preseason and was pushed down on the depth chart as he transitioned from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker. Of course, every Patriots fan has been wondering one thing: What has the Patriots been missing out on with Cunningham? Who else could they have drafted?
Well, let's find out.
Read more after the jump!
Cunningham played a little bit in week 1 and put up zero statistics. That's fine. Well let's look at how all of the other potential 3-4 OLBs from the 2010 draft have performed. Yes, some players are in the 4-3 defense, but they were all regarded as potential 3-4 OLB players.
15th Overall: Jason Pierre Paul, New York Giants - Substitute Player, 2 Tackles (1 assist, 1 solo)
53rd Overall: Jermaine Cunningham, New England Patriots - Substitute Player, Played, No Statistics
116th Overall: Thaddeus Gibson, Pittsburgh Steelers - Substitute Player, Did Not Play
130th Overall: O'Brien Schofield, Arizona Cardinals - Substitute Player, IR, Out For Season
134th Overall: Ricky Sapp, Philadelphia Eagles - Substitute Player, IR, Out For Season
175th Overall: Greg Hardy, Carolina Panthers - Substitute Player, 4 Tackles (1 assist, 3 solo), 1 Forced Fumble, 1 Punt Blocked (For a Safety)
So how does Jermaine Cunningham look in comparison to his outside linebacker class? He's one of 18 or so players drafted that could fill the Patriots' OLB position (note: Yes, there are more, but they're not on teams). Out of those 18, only 9 played a down. That's 50%.
Only three players played notably in week 1. Derrick Morgan (16th overall and out of reach), Koa Misi (40th) and Greg Hardy (175th). Hardy plummeted in the draft due to perpetual injury as well as weight problems. That means Misi is the only real prospect that should be taken seriously
and no one on the Pulpit wanted Misi.
I know that a lot of people are shrugging when looking at Cunningham's injury, due to the disaster known as Shawn Crable, but if you're one of the people who were worried- stop. He's already in the top 50% of his draft class just for getting on the field. If he gets 3 tackles, that makes him the 3rd most productive OLB from the draft. Now I know everyone wants better production from a second round selection. Compare him to the other players drafted in the first two rounds and Cunningham's production puts him smack in the middle.
As the Patriots go into Week 2 to play the run-heavy New York Jets, look for Jermaine Cunningham to get a lot more playing time. After the game, we should get a much idea of how Cunningham fits into the Patriots defense and how he fits into the future.
Also, look at the players on this list. Misi and maybe Worilds are the only two players who are earned a chance to play in the 3-4 defense as an OLB. No wonder the Patriots decided to wait until next year to address the OLB position.
So don't panic just yet. Cunningham is still ahead of the curve.