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NFL Draft | First round

Turning to corner

Patriots backpedal, go with McCourty

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / April 23, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — Devin McCourty nearly missed his dream phone call.

The Rutgers cornerback ran to the bathroom last night at the most inopportune time — no sooner had he gotten there, his phone began to ring. His brother picked it up and came pounding on the door, telling him he’d better answer.

Bill Belichick was on the other end, telling McCourty that the Patriots were going to make him the 27th pick last night in the 2010 NFL draft.

“He asked me, ‘Are you ready to be a Patriot?’ and I said yes,’’ McCourty said in a conference call. Belichick told him they were excited to have him on the team, and owner Robert Kraft jumped on the line to echo Belichick’s sentiments.

Measuring at 5 feet 11 inches and 193 pounds, McCourty was a three-year starter for the Scarlet Knights. Last year, he was first-team All-Big East after his 80-tackle senior season, in which he had 10 pass deflections and one interception. He is also a special teams demon who blocked seven kicks in his career (six punts, one field goal).

The selection of McCourty was met with surprise in the Gillette Stadium press box; though AFC East rivals Miami and New York have added top-notch receivers, the Patriots’ secondary is solid. The need for a pass rusher, defensive lineman, tight end, or receiver seemed more pressing.

But Belichick chose the player he felt was the best available for his team.

“The way the board was coming down, we felt like he would be the player with the best value,’’ the coach said. “We drafted the player we felt was the best fit for our football team — that’s the way it will always be.’’

New England was slated to select 22d in the first round, but traded that pick to Denver when the time came, getting the 24th and 113th overall picks in return. With the Patriots on the clock again two picks later and their 10-minute limit winding down, the Patriots traded out again, this time with Dallas.

The Cowboys gave the Patriots the 27th and 90th spots, while New England surrendered the 24th and 119th. The No. 90 pick gives the Patriots a third-round selection, which they previously didn’t have.

Dallas selected a player many had tabbed for New England: receiver Dez Bryant.

But McCourty was the player the Patriots had targeted all along, according to Belichick.

McCourty described himself thusly: “I’m just a guy that comes to play every day. That’s been my ethic ever since I got to college: work hard every day.’’

Scouts say McCourty reads quarterbacks well and is quick to jump routes because of it; he projects to be very good in zone coverage, which is how the Patriots’ defensive backs are most often asked to play. He is a solid tackler and willing to jump in on run support.

One evaluator compared him with Tampa Bay’s Ronde Barber. Barber has been in the league more than a decade and still plays at a high level.

“Devin is a player from an outstanding program. He’s very well coached by [Greg] Schiano and their staff. He’s had an outstanding career there,’’ Belichick said. “He’s fast and very tough. He’s a good four-down football player. I think he’s shown consistent production in that program . . . I have a lot of respect for what he’s done there.’’

McCourty implied that he did not have a lot of predraft contact with New England. He did spend an hour with Belichick watching film on the Rutgers campus when Belichick was there for a coaching clinic. Schiano is one of several college coaches with whom Belichick has a strong relationship.

In that time, Belichick learned that McCourty “had a good understanding of his defense. Not just his calls, but the whole defense. Obviously he’s well-coached, studies hard, and is well-prepared.’’

McCourty has a twin brother, Jason, already in the NFL. When the pair arrived at Rutgers in 2005, Jason played in nine games, while Devin was a redshirt and a member of the scout team.

Also a cornerback, Jason was a late-round pick of the Titans last year and played in 15 games with three starts.

With draft observers expecting New England to use its first pick on a player who can pressure quarterbacks, Belichick was asked why he didn’t go in that direction.

“Devin has the ability to help our team on four downs [including special teams]. It’s hard to imagine too many players who could also make that kind of impact,’’ he said.

“You may disagree, but I didn’t see it that way.’’

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com.

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