Where to start? How about the seven deals? The trade of veteran cornerback and return man Ellis Hobbs to Philadelphia? Or the fact that in a Bill Belichick draft, the Patriots took just as many long snappers as they did linebackers?
It was an exhausting weekend, chock full of surprises. In the end, New England added 12 new draftees -- the most ever since Belichick arrived in Foxborough as the head coach in 2000 – and picked up two more second-rounders in 2010, which right now, means the Patriots four picks in the first two rounds next year.
In the end, here are some of our picks for best and worst moments of the weekend.
Best Story: It’s been an amazing journey to the NFL for third-round draft pick Tyrone McKenzie, a trip that’s included three different schools and a job on the night shift at a Hampton Inn.
McKenzie’s father Ruppert passed away when he was nine, but kept plugging away at the game of football. As a collegian, he enrolled at Michigan State, but left after just one season to return home and take care of his mother, who had health problems. While at home, he worked the third shift at a Hampton Inn, handling the front desk and working out at a local high school to try and stay in football shape.
“I was working the night shift, in the morning, working the front desk, checking in people late at night. Being that late, it was just kind of boring and you get kind of tired from a shift there working at the desk. I was hoping every hour and half [hour] for someone to check in at night,” the 6-foot-2, 243-pound linebacker said Sunday.
“I worked out at a local gym. I worked out there in high school. I had a trainer at the time, so I worked with him once a week. Then the other four days of my workout of the week, I was on my own.”
McKenzie then enrolled at Iowa State, but a family health issue -- his mother was in a car accident, and lost her business because she couldn’t work. In addition, there was his mother’s divorce from her second husband. It necessitated another transfer, which took him to South Florida, where he excelled for two years with the Bulls. Along the way, he never lost sight of his professional goal, a portion of which was realized Sunday when he heard his name called by the Patriots.
“Once you go through a situation like that, it’s huge. It helps you mature as a man,” he said. “All through this whole process, I’ve been hanging out with different guys that were going through the same draft process. I could see how much more mature I was from a lot of my competition. So that really helped me be a man and it let me really realize that it can be here today and gone tomorrow.
“At the same time, I don’t want to go back to working at a Hampton Inn.”
“I would just say of all the players that I’ve talked to and we’ve interviewed this year and even through the years, that Tyrone is amongst the most impressive,” said Belichick, who took him with the 97th overall pick. “Maturity, intelligence, what he’s done with the opportunities that he’s had or that he’s had to overcome, how he’s approached them, how he’s dealt with them, how he’s made the most of them.
“It hasn’t been easy. Yet, he’s continued to excel, jump over hurdles and overcome obstacles that I think would have derailed a lot of other people and/or football players. I think he’s a very impressive, mature, humble young man.”
Best question mark: In his first three seasons at North Carolina, Brandon Tate was a receiver with great speed and a knack for being around the ball, a player who was almost certainly starting to blossom into a first-round pick. Midway through his senior season, he was averaging 23.5 yards on his 16 receptions, and had set an NCAA-record 3,523 career combined kick-return yards.
But a torn ACL in his right knee and a positive test for marijuana at the combine sent him tumbling down draft boards. That didn’t stop the Patriots from taking him with the 19th pick in the third round, 83rd overall.
Tate, a 6-foot, 195-pound wide receiver and return man, is an unknown: Can he rehab in time to make a contribution to the 2009 team? Will New England simply shut him down and have him focus on 2010? And were there questions about his character? After all, it’s well known the combine tests for marijuana. For someone to know this and then decide to go out and smoke might send the wrong kind of message.
Lets take those questions one at a time: No one is quite sure about a possible timetable for his return to the field. Tate himself simply said “we’ll see” when he was asked if he could be ready for training camp, a statement that was echoed by Belichick. As for the positive drug test, Tate said it was part of his past, but he’s ready to move on.
“All of that is behind me. Whatever happened with that, it already happened, so I’m moving forward,” he said. “I knew it probably would (probably affect my draft status), but I was still waiting on that call because I knew somebody would give me a chance. I thank the Patriots for that, so I’m going to come in and I’m willing to work for them.”
“Every player has things positives and negatives in their entire profile, whatever that happens to be. In the end, you just have to evaluate that player, your team and your situation and what kind of value you put on that and what kind of fit you think it will be,” Belichick said.
“I’m glad we have Brandon. He brings a lot to our football team and he’ll hopefully work hard to do the things he needs to do to be a productive player for the Patriots. That’s what my expectations are. We’re comfortable taking him at the point [and] in the situation that we took him in and I think he has a good future here.”
Best Drama: There were two schools of thought on Ellis Hobbs. He was either a heroic underdog who beat the odds to become an every down corner and quality kick returner. Or, he was a shrimp who was nothing more than a glorified nickel back, completely overmatched as a No. 1 corner.
But the biggest trade of the day for the Patriots came up quickly, and when the opportunity was presented to get a pair of fifth-round picks, New England jumped at the chance to deal the 5-foot-9, 195-pound, 25-year-old Hobbs to the Eagles.
“I’ll just say that the Ellis Hobbs trade was not really something that we anticipated,” Belichick said. “It was just one of those things that, based on the way things went and where are team was and what the opportunity was with Philadelphia and so forth, we felt that that was the best thing to do for our team. So we made that transaction.”
When Belichick was asked if the move could be perceived as a chance to clear some salary cap space or a chance to get two younger players in Jonathan Wilhite or Terrence Wheatley more of a chance to succeed at corner, the coach said it was a combination of things.
“I think there are a lot of forces at work there,” Belichick said. “I would just say that it’s a combination of a lot of things that we felt like, from a timing standpoint and moving forward, ‘What’s the best thing for our football team?’ That was just the right move at this time. Philadelphia was a partner on that and it just felt like when we talked to them that that was the best thing for our football team.
“It wasn’t any one thing. It wasn’t any one force, but it was just kind of a combination of all of those things coming together.”
In his four seasons with the Patriots, Hobbs had 198 tackles, nine interceptions and 36 passes defensed. In addition, Hobbs worked as a kick returner, averaging 27.7 yards a return, and returning three kicks for a touchdown, including one for 108-yards in 2007 against the Jets.
The deal was “shocking” to Hobbs, who held a conference call with the Philadelphia media late Sunday afternoon.
“Personally, I think it’s shocking because you’ve been playing so many years for an organization,” said Hobbs, who was taken in the third round of the 2005 Draft out of Iowa State. “Had some success and doing your thing, but on the other side it’s a business.
“I had been telling my family members for a while I just had a feeling. Then you kind of feel things out, you see how the organization is making moves throughout the offseason. You figure that something is going to shake, you just never know when, but when I got the call no bad blood, no hard feelings. It is what it is and I’m excited to be playing for the Eagles now.”
The deal is simply the latest move in the radical remaking of the New England secondary, specifically the cornerback position. The Patriots ended last season with Hobbs and Wilhite as the starting corners, backed up by a motley crew that included Deltha O’Neal, Mike Richardson, Fernando Bryant and Lewis Sanders. Now, the current New England corners include -- but are not limited to -- newcomers Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden, as well as second-year guys Wilhite and Wheatley and rookie Darius Butler. Quite a change.
At least for now, the move leaves the Patriots a little thin at kick returner. Second-year man Matthew Slater may be given the chance to win the job in training camp, but veteran Wes Welker has experience in the return game, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him back there if Slater can't get the job done. (Butler or Tate could also figure into the mix.) If you’re putting together a depth chart right now, in fact, Welker probably gets the slight nod over Slater. But the Patriots would love to find someone other than Welker – someone who is so important to the New England offense -- to step up and take the job.
Worst-Kept Secret: The Patriots took a couple of nose tackles and a safety who bears a passing resemblance to a certain No. 37 because they are unsure about the futures of Vince Wilfork and Rodney Harrison. New England selected nose tackles Ron Brace out of Boston College, as well as defensive linemen Marlon Pryor, as well as Oregon safety Patrick Chung. They aren’t going to be Pro Bowlers next season, but they might become a very valuable insurance package down the road for the Patriots.
Wilfork is due big dollars -- his contract is up at the end of the 2009 season, while Harrison has publicly stated he will announce whether or not he will return for another season on June 1. If New England loses one or both of these players within the next year, these might be the guys the Patriots hope will be able to eventually replace them.
Best Conspiracy Theory That Just Won’t Die: I’ve never been one for conspiracy theories, but the idea the Patriots have a handshake deal in place with defensive end/outside linebacker Jason Taylor has started to make an awful lot of sense, especially when you consider the way they went about drafting this weekend.
New England came into this draft needing to address the pass rush, and despite the fact that they had ample opportunity to do something about it, they failed to take any one of the many defensive end/outside linebacker hybrids that were on the board. When he was asked if he was disappointed he wasn’t able to land an outside linebacker in this draft -- a draft that NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said had great depth at the position -- Belichick shrugged.
“As always, there’s a lot of players on the board that we like and we drafted the ones that we felt gave us the best value at that particular time,” said Belichick, who ended up taking just one linebacker with his 12 picks, Tyrone McKenzie from South Florida. “There were a lot of players on the board that are good football players that we could have had, and for some reason or another, it just didn’t work out this time at every position.”
But all the signs point to a Taylor signing before the start of training camp in July. He’s expressed an interest in working out in South Florida in the offseason so he could be near his family, and Belichick has always made allowances for veterans who he believed deserve special treatment -- like Roman Phifer, who would split his time between Foxborough and his family in Southern California during the season. Tom Brady and Taylor remain close, and the quarterback would undoubtedly endorse the idea of Taylor in the New England locker room. And moving Hobbs to the Eagles for a pair of draft picks frees up cap space, which would certainly make Taylor an easier fit in Foxborough than he might have been at the start of the weekend.
Christopher Price covers the Patriots for WEEI.com.