Lists are good. Lists are fun. Whatever they’re founded upon, they’re usually backed up by 100% opinion, so here’s my opinion as to which players the New England Patriots drafted in the 2010 draft will have the largest impact as a rookie.
1. Brandon Spikes, Inside Linebacker, 62nd Overall (2nd round). I believe that Spikes will be the only rookie (apart from Punter Zoltan Mesko) to step into a full time starter’s role. Spikes will play ILB next to Jerod Mayo and see at least 75% of the defensive snaps. His lack of "speed" will more than be made up for with his high intelligence and his quickness. He’ll be a run stopper on the defensive line and will allow Mayo more freedom to make other plays.
2. Rob Gronkowski, Tight End, 42nd Overall (2nd round). The Gronk will be the second most impactful rookie. He won’t be the full time starter- I expect him to split plays with veteran Alge Crumpler- so that’s why I place Spikes first. Gronk will still pick up a handful of red zone touchdowns and will consistently move the chains between the twenties. Look for a solid year of blocking, receiving and scoring from our tight end.
3. Devin McCourty, Cornerback, 27th overall (1st round). I don’t see McCourty beating out Darius Butler for the #2 cornerback spot in training camp. Butler will do well and will perform well. I do see McCourty easily taking the #3 spot from week 1. I think that McCourty will see between 50% and 60% of the defensive snaps as he gradually catches up with Butler by the end of the season.
4. Zoltan Mesko, Punter, 150th overall (5th round). Mesko will be an instant starter so that’s why I have a punter as being so highly ranked. He’ll be an immediate upgrade over Chris Hanson and should be our punter for years to come.
5. Aaron Hernandez, Tight End, 113th overall (4th round). Hernandez won’t be our stud tight end like Gronkowski. I do see him being a phenomenal receiving tight end who should post similar numbers as Gronkowski- but without the blocking. Without in-line blocking, Hernandez loses a lot of "impact" in my opinion because it leaves his contributions to how he performs downfield.
6. Taylor Price, Wide Receiver, 90th overall (3rd round). I’ve asserted my opinion that Price will be our #3 at the end of the season. He’ll start off the season 5th on the depth chart (behind Randy Moss, Julian Edelman, Torry Holt and Brandon Tate), but will have risen to the #3 spot by the time Welker returns. He’s a strong, athletic player with great hands- all he needs is a connection with Tom Brady.
7. Jermaine Cunningham, Outside Linebacker, 53rd overall (2nd round). Cunningham will start the season behind Tully Banta-Cain, Derrick Burgess and Shawn Crable, meaning his play time will be extremely limited. Cunningham will be a sub player, who will see only a little bit of field time as he converts from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker.
8. Brandon Deaderick, Defensive End, 247th overall (7th round). Deaderick is the only 7th round pick I can see making the roster- although I do see some other players making the practice squad. I think that Deaderick will be a sub player, much like Myron Pryor, in the 3-4 defensive end rotation. He’ll be a run stopper, but won’t be much of a pass rusher. He’ll get some sub time, but he’ll mainly be injury insurance.
9. Ted Larsen, Center, 205th overall (6th round). Larsen will make the roster, but, unlike Deaderick, won’t be in any rotation for the center position. He’ll be Koppen’s back-up, meaning he won’t see the field unless Koppen gets injured.
10. Thomas Welch, Offensive Tackle, 208th overall (7th round). With a crowded offensive line crowd, I don’t see Welch making the roster. He’ll get dropped to the practice squad where he’ll spend all his time, bar massive injury to the depth in front of him.
11. Zac Robinson, Quarterback, 250th overall (7th round). I think that Robinson will have to fight new quarterback pick-up Mike Teel for the practice squad quarterback spot. I think Robinson will make it to the practice squad, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was cut outright.
12. Kade Weston, Defensive End, 248th overall (7th round). If a player is going to get cut, it will be Weston. With such a logjam of players on the defensive line, someone is going to get cut. Weston’s inexperience, as well as the quality and caliber of players competing for the same spot, will lead Weston off the roster. I can see Weston making the practice squad, but there are so many possible practice squad players, I don’t think Weston will make the final cut.