By: Ian Logue
After any NFL Draft, it’s easy to second-guess a lot of the decisions made when it comes to who a team should, or shouldn’t, have taken.
At the end of draft weekend you’ll read the reviews and the ratings and they’ll make you believe it’s easy to predict who will be the next All-Pro receiver or the next “sack king” on the defensive line. It always looks good on paper.
Unfortunately the game isn’t played on paper, and whenever you make a selection, especially in the first round, the goal is to find a quality guy who can make an immediate impact on your roster. If all goes well, that same player goes on to get even better, and stay part of your system for years to come.
Patriots fans likely remember that April afternoon when the Patriots watched wide receiver Dez Bryant come off the board, only to later see Bill Belichick select cornerback Devin McCourty out of Rutgers. Initially there was a lot of controversy and frustration from the fan base, who were obviously hoping to see them grab another offensive weapon for Tom Brady. The rest read all the scouting reports that said McCourty had the potential to be a “shut down corner” in the league, but reading it and seeing it are two totally different things.
They got to see it months later, and McCourty found his way into the starting line-up and made the most of it. He finished with seven interceptions in his rookie season, tying him for second in the NFL and the team lead for the Patriots. The rookie’s defensive performance was also one of the big reasons for New England’s astounding 14-2 finish, allowing them to overcome the loss of veteran cornerback Leigh Bodden, who was lost before the season even started with a shoulder injury.
With Bodden expected to return and Kyle Arrington coming off a solid performance of his own last year on the other side, they seemed to have the pieces they needed in the secondary for an encore in 2011.
McCourty set the bar pretty high after his impressive rookie season. (FILE:Icon/SMI)
That obviously set the bar for this season pretty high. Considering how well he had played there was certainly plenty of excitement from those looking for bigger things from him in his sophomore season.
He’s been off to a bit of a slower start this year, having not recorded an interception through the first five games. McCourty has instead watched defenslive lineman Vince Wilfork snatch two passes out of the air so far this season, but against the Jets last weekend he showed much more signs of starting to settle back in at the position.
Belichick’s been confident in him since day one. Despite the initial reaction by both fans and media, he was pleased with their pick and believed he could be a solid player in their defense.
“Things came out about as well as we could have hoped for,” Belichick said after they selected him. “[McCourty] is fast. He’s very tough. He’s a good four-down football player — first, second, third and fourth down in the kicking game, certainly one of the top guys in the draft in that area.”
“There aren’t too many players that can really impact a player on first, second, third and fourth downs. That gives him a lot of versatility and a lot of value. You may disagree, but I don’t see it that way.”
So far, he’s been all they could have hoped for. The only question now is whether or not he can add the, “and then some” to that sentence. After watching him Sunday against the Jets, he had one of his best games yet and for the first time this year looked much more confident and was much better in coverage.
He’ll likely be challenged by Bryant Sunday, and a lot of the people who wished for the wide receiver on that April afternoon are going to get to see him run around for the first time on the Gillette Stadium turf. Most people who looked at New England’s needs a little deeper would likely agree that Bryant would have been a luxury, but McCourty really was – and is – a necessity, and he’s helped stabilize a secondary that was in dire need of a playmaker and a solid cover corner.
More importantly, McCourty’s a tough player and has shown his durability, including playing through a reported cracked rib in the final weeks of last season. That’s the type of guy you need in your defensive backfield, and a year later Belichick and the rest of the personnel department know they got the right player.
Now they just need to see how well they can defend the guy they passed on when he comes into town this weekend.
“[He’s a] big, strong receiver, he catches the ball well,” Belichick said while talking about Bryant Wednesday. “He had a couple punt returns last year that went the distance. He can run, he can break tackles, he’s good with the ball in his hands. Big target, I don’t know how you could overthrow that guy – he’s like a tight end. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s got good speed, returns kicks, so he can do a lot of things.”
Hopefully we’ll see McCourty and the rest of New England’s secondary make sure he does as little as possible on Sunday.