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New England Patriots - Rookie and Sophomore Contributions (Part 1)

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Hey everyone, welcome to the NESilver version of Pats Pulpit! That's right! I'm taking over! Mwahaha... oh, sorry, did I say that out loud? Ahem. Anyway... I'll be taking over the stat duties, and splitting time with MaPatsFan on position profiles and free agent signings. We'll get a good rotation going there. Consider us a bit like Gary Guyton and Tedy Bruschi, or Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris. Wait, does that mean one of us is gonna be injured frequently? Hmm... this wasn't in the job description...

Okay, so with that out of the way, I wanted to focus on our most recent draftees with my first post. I figured that would be a good way to kick things off, since we're getting closer to the draft and all. It's an exciting time of year, where everyone's excited about how well their team will do next season, and you can definitely include me in that bunch. Just for the record, I am a BIG optimist and a major homer for our New England Patriots, which means I fully expect every single one of our draftees to turn into studs and Pro-Bowlers every year. Is that really so unreasonable? I sure don't think so.

With that said, here's the list of our draft picks for the past two years who are currently still a part of the team.

Sophomores (2007 Class)
Brandon Meriweather - 1st Round, 24th overall
Mike Richardson - 6th Round, 202nd overall
Matt Gutierrez - Undrafted Rookie Free Agent

Rookies (2008 Class)

Jerod Mayo - 1st Round, 10th overall
Terrence Wheatley - 2nd Round, 62nd overall
Shawn Crable - 3rd Round, 78th overall
Kevin O'Connell - 3rd Round, 94th overall
Jonathan Wilhite - 4th Round, 129th overall
Matthew Slater - 5th Round, 153rd overall
Bo Ruud - 6th Round, 197th overall
Gary Guyton - Undrafted Rookie Free Agent
BenJarvus Green-Ellis - Undrafted Rookie Free Agent
Vince Redd - Undrafted Rookie Free Agent

As you probably gathered from the title, I'll be splitting this into two parts. We'll start with the sophomore class in this post. Bill Belichick has often said that the biggest leap in improvement for a football player is usually between their first and second year in the league (which means we should be pretty excited about some of our rookies who got significant playing time this year - woohoo!).

The big name on that list is Brandon Meriweather, our first rounder from 2007. He began his first year predominantly on special teams, though he did occasionally see time on defense. He recorded 27 tackles in his first year, and although he seemed to be around the ball often enough, the big knock against him were the interceptions he dropped. He dropped at least three of them, including a potential game-ender against the Baltimore Ravens and another one during the playoffs, in "The game that shall not be mentioned." Despite showing some potential, there were some people who were a little down on him. Here are the stats for his second year:

Sacks Interceptions Tackles
G Sacks YdsL Int Yds IntTD Solo Ast Total
2008 - Brandon Meriweather 16 2.0 19 4 25 0 57 20 77

In 2008, he became a bigger part of the rotation at safety with Sanders and Harrison, and he worked hard during the offseason to improve those stone hands with a jugs machine. The difference was clearly noticeable this past year, as Meriweather notched his first career interception during Week 2 against the Jets, picking off the non-retired Brett Favre. After Rodney Harrison was injured on Week 7 and done for the season, Meriweather didn't miss a single snap on defense (according to Reiss, he was present for 85% of the defensive snaps in total), recording 83 total tackles (I'm going off with this one, SBNation says 77 for some reason), 4 interceptions, and 9 passes defended.. He also notched two sacks, including a strip-sack to clinch the game against the Seattle Seahawks. While there's still plenty of room for improvement, Brandon Meriweather looks to be a keeper thus far.

Mike Richardson and Matt Gutierrez are more difficult to gauge in terms of improvement. Both of these players are far down the depth chart, and because they don't see a ton of playing time, there aren't many stats to work with (so no pretty little stat box for these guys). Richardson spent his entire rookie season on IR and started his 2008 campaign on the practice squad. He was finally activated to the roster during Week 7 against the Denver Broncos. He played for six games and recorded 17 total tackles.

Matt Gutierrez got a little bit of playing time in 2007 when games were far out of reach, but nothing significant. In 2008, he was being hyped up by the media as the guy who would supplant Matt Cassel for the backup quarterback position, only to get cut at the end of preseason (though he was later brought back to the practice squad). However, when Tom Brady was injured, Gutierrez found himself back on the roster as the emergency quarterback, so he's managed to stick around. Bill Belichick has praised him for his strong work ethic before, but he finds himself behind Kevin O'Connel and Tom Brady heading into 2009. In preseason, he went 29-of-45 for 362 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He saw no playing time during the regular season.

Next fanpost I'll focus on our gigantic rookie class (at least, in comparison to the sophomores).