I think the “so and so is a bust” one year after being drafted is utterly premature (I’m thinking in particular of Brace and Chung). For sure there will be busts, but in the Patriots’ complex system, and in particular at very cognitively demanding positions (DB, DL, WR), it will just take time for young players to pick up the scheme. The two-gap, 3-4 Parcells/Belichick defense is a read and react defense for lineman, and is a significant change to the 4-3 gap penetration scheme Brace played in at BC. I’m not super knowledgeable on the 4-2 defense that Oregon runs, but I’m sure in my bones that the SS position in Belichick’s defense is more cognitively demanding than anything in the college system.
Middle linebacker is the easiest position in football to project: people like Jon Beason, Patrick Willis, Demeco Ryans, etc. all step in and make an immediate impact, and so often win Rookie of the Year, because they are asked to replicate the instinctive football play they’ve been doing. They certainly learn new things, but they don’t have the same learning curve of say, a 3-4 two gaper asked to change what he does—1 gap 4-3 lineman is a similar projection to middle LB, where you keep doing basically the same thing: be accountable for one lane and penetrate.
Keep in mind these kids are young, in or just ending adolescence as rookies, and as such are still growing and changing mentally. There’s a significant body of cognitive psychology research that shows how even into late adolescence, our executive function improves and grows. The executive function controls “selective attention, decision-making and response inhibition skills, along with the ability to carry out multiple tasks at once” (Blakemore & Choudhury, 2006). Do you think as a Pats’ SS or a 3-4 NT you have to develop “selective attention, decision-making and response inhibition skills, along with the ability to carry out multiple tasks at once?”
I see this all the time in my students at Carnegie Mellon University. As a whole, these are some of the smartest and most privileged young people in the world—they’re all smart. But my seniors and Masters students are much more able to pick up and demonstrate competency in complex cognitive tasks: the group from 22-26 demonstrates really different cognitive ability than the 18-21 group. I think this carries over to our rookies—I’m not surprised it might take someone like Chung or Brace a while in the system, but also time to have their brain/cognition mature, before they can handle it.
They’re not busts yet.