To be honest, I don't know if I've ever walked away from the first three rounds of the NFL Draft this confident about the Patriots' picks. This article will look at each move the Patriots made, analyzing each player the Patriots selected.
Round 2, Pick 42: Rob Gronkowski, TE, Arizona
The Patriots made a bold move by trading up from 44 to 42 (giving up a sixth round pick), leapfrogging the tight end needy Ravens, and selecting the best tight end on the board in Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski missed the entire 2009 season due to a back injury. While there are no questions that he is a first round talent, Gronkowski fell due to the concerns about his back. However, the Patriots brought Gronkowski in for a pre-draft visit, checked him out medically, and thought he was good to go.
So what does Gronkowski bring to the table? First, Gronkowski brings excellent size to the tight end position, as he stands over 6'6" and 265lbs. He is an excellent blocker, and has the strength to deliver a powerful pop to defensive ends. As a receiver, he is quick out of his stance, has enough speed to challenge the seam, and has excellent hands, as he can reach outside his frame to make the tough catch. He is also excellent catching the ball in traffic. A terrific red zone threat, Gronkowski pulled in 16 touchdowns in his two years playing at Arizona.
While he isn't the most fluid, Gronkowski filled a major need, and should step in as the starting tight end from day one. Greg's Grade: A
Round 2, Pick 53: Jermaine Cunningham, OLB, Florida
I can't say that I had Jermaine Cunningham on my radar for the second round. However, the Patriots, by selecting Cunningham, may have solved their pass rushing need.
Cunningham isn't the fastest player, but he has an explosive pass rushing first step. He uses his hands well, and can hit inside, or outside the tackle. He can deliver pop with his hits, and is very strong against the run. At 6-3 and a half, 266 lbs with long arms, he fits the Patriots' bill at outside linebacker. He will be able to set the edge against the run, as well as get to the quarterback. He may not be the most fluid in his hips, but he still has the athleticism to drop into coverage.
Overall, a pass rusher was a huge need for the Patriots this draft, and the team may have solved the need by bringing in Cunningham. Greg's Grade: B+
Round 2, Pick 62: Brandon Spikes, ILB, Florida
The Patriots picked their second Florida player when they took inside linebacker Brandon Spikes out of Florida.
While inside linebacker wasn't the team's biggest need, this selection may have been my favorite pick of the first two days. Spikes' stock dropped because of his slow 40 time at his pro day (5.06). While his 40 time is quite slow for a linebacker's standard, Spikes plays a lot faster in pads.
Beyond speed, Spikes is extremely instinctive and has a very high football I.Q. He will come in and be an instant, vocal leader for this team. He has great size (6-3, 250) and can take on guards, use his hands to shed blocks, and make plays. He is a strong tackler, and has a very high motor. He is the type of player you want both on and off the field.
Spikes will be able to come in and be the starting strong inside linebacker for the Patriots as a rookie, playing on first and second downs as well as in running situations. His presence will also allow Jerod Mayo to move back to weak inside linebacker (where he played his rookie year), which is his natural position. On passing downs, the Patriots will rotate in Gary Guyton. Tyrone McKenzie also figures to be in the mix for some playing time at the position.
Having a guy like Brandon Spikes will bring the same type of impact both on the field and in the locker room as a Ted Johnson. Bill Belichick clearly wants to re-install the fire and toughness to this defense, and adding Brandon Spikes certainly goes a long way to achieving that goal. Greg's Grade: A-
Round 3, Pick 89: Traded to Carolina for a 2011 Second Round Pick
Typical Bill Belichick move, and I love it. While the team could have selected Everson Griffen, the Panthers offered the Patriots a second round pick next year, and there was no denying that deal. The Patriots now have two second round picks and two first round picks in 2011. Beautiful. Greg's Grade: A
Round 3, Pick 90: Taylor Price, WR, Ohio
Another pick, another solid selection for the Patriots. Price stands at over 6 feet tall and 200 lbs. He has a solid, compact frame, and can beat the jam off the line. His most impressive trait may be his straight line speed, as he consistently runs in the 4.3's. He has solid hands, and managed to put up decent numbers in a run-oriented offense at Ohio. He is a little tight in the hips, but has great acceleration to create separation. He has a high ceiling, and could develop into a dangerous deep threat for Tom Brady and the Patriots. Greg's Grade: B