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They were caught out of position

By Albert R. Breer
Globe Staff / April 23, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — We can make this one real simple.

Devin McCourty better be Darrelle Revis. Or Nnamdi Asomugha. Or quickly show the promise of Mike Jenkins or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Either that, or the Patriots have to have Elvis Dumervil waiting for them in the second round.

Because failing that, New England left its needs unfilled on Day 1 of the NFL draft in pursuit of the top player on its board.

The Patriots’ Class of 2010 will ultimately have to be viewed as a mosaic of the first four picks with which they entered last night’s proceedings — 22d, 44th, 47th, and 53d overall.

They dealt down twice with the first of those picks, moving from 22 to 24 to 27, and picking up third- and fourth-round selections for their troubles. Bill Belichick said McCourty was going to be the pick, regardless of whether it was exercised where they started or ended up.

And that’s fine. I get it. A guy they thought much of, playing a big-dollar position, and someone they could get a lower slot. Good.

The trouble is that McCourty isn’t going to come screaming off the edge and tilt offense’s protection in his direction, opening things for pass rushers to make plays. He’s certainly not going to help bridge the gap at receiver, with Randy Moss a good possibility to be out the door after 2010. He’s also not going to give Tom Brady the security blanket a good tight end could over the middle.

Point is, the Patriots entered last night with a plethora of needs. They left without the biggest ones addressed.

Belichick himself said, “We have good depth at that position. I think they’ll all contribute.’’

So let’s look at the Patriots’ investments over the last 24 months at a position that’s been such a trouble spot.

They drafted Terrence Wheatley 62d overall and Jonathan Wilhite 129th overall in 2008. They signed Shawn Springs to a three-year, $11 million deal last winter. Around the same time, Leigh Bodden signed a one-year, $2.25 million deal, and has since been re-signed to a four-year, $22 million deal. Then, they took Darius Butler with the 41st pick in 2009.

That’s five players, two of whom were drafted in the first two rounds, and two who got multiyear commitments. And that’s without including McCourty.

Now, it’s obvious Wheatley is on the outs, and Wilhite could be too, but Bodden and Butler are considered major parts of the team’s future, and those players should have given the team the flexibility to address other needs early in this draft.

One general manager told me two weeks ago that there were 31 draftable corners this year, which he called “unheard of.’’ So it’s not like they couldn’t have added at the position later on.

And while dealing the Colts’ passing game — something this team’s done with all the precision of a 5-year-old in a finger-painting class of late — has to be a concern playing in the AFC, just look what the Patriots are up against in their division.

The Jets have the league’s top-ranked running game. The Dolphins are fourth in that category. While Santonio Holmes and Brandon Marshall, respectively, stand to make those teams’ passing games better, it won’t change who they are. And with a run defense that still has skidmarks on its back after the Ravens ran over it in January, that’s an area that needs to be dealt with as well.

Which is just the start of the issue.

Chad Henne might as well have been throwing from a lawn chair with all the time he had in December against New England. Peyton Manning looked like he was in a 7-on-7 drill bringing the Colts back in November to beat the Patriots.

That pass rush isn’t any better today than it was then, and by putting young defensive backs out there without more help up front, you’re putting at risk their confidence and retarding their development.

Then, there’s the age on the interior of the offensive line. And the fact that there’s just one tight end — a blocking type nearing the end of the road — on the roster who’s dressed for an NFL game. And the reality that the receiver position is muddy now, and even cloudier looking into the future.

There’s no question this team has more needs to fill than it’s had in a long time.

Now, the most valuable resource the team has had was expended on a position that’s actually been taken care of, to a reasonable degree.

It just doesn’t add up.

How can the Patriots count on getting the pass rusher they need in Round 2, with so much movement in Round 1? Is it possible to do that without trading up and sacrificing other picks, which in turn would compromise the ability to fill other holes?

Again, this isn’t a knock on the player himself. But Dez Bryant would have filled a need. So would Jerry Hughes or Jermaine Gresham.

Instead, the Patriots enter Day 2 with the same list of major needs with which they started Day 1.

Maybe McCourty is going to be outstanding. A game-changer. A play-maker. A franchise cornerstone.

I can’t say he will be or won’t be, but if that’s the case, then this makes all the sense in the world.

Otherwise, it doesn’t make a lot of sense at all.

Albert R. Breer can be reached at abreer@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @albertbreer.

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