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Patriots pick their final four

Lineman Cannon a surprise choice

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By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / May 1, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots wrapped up Day 3 of the draft with a couple more surprises, following Friday night’s eye-opening selection of quarterback Ryan Mallett of Arkansas in the third round.

With four picks over the final three rounds — they traded their fourth-round slot to Oakland Friday — the Patriots selected two offensive players, a defensive player, and a defensive back who projects as a special-teamer.

“We’ve got another one in the books here,’’ Bill Belichick said shortly after making the last of the nine picks. “This is one step in the team-building process. I’m sure there will be more to come, but maybe not for a while. We’ll have to wait and see.’’

With the 138th overall pick in the fifth round, the Patriots made their first surprise selection: offensive lineman Marcus Cannon of Texas Christian.

In the months leading up to the draft, Cannon, a massive man at 6 feet 5 inches, 358 pounds, was considered worthy of a pick in the second or third round. But there was a rumor that he had testicular cancer, which turned out to be false.

However, Cannon was diagnosed with another form of cancer: non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His prognosis for recovery is excellent, and he underwent his first round of chemotherapy Thursday. He reportedly has three more rounds of chemo, with the last currently scheduled for June 29.

“I feel awesome,’’ Cannon said shortly after getting the call from Belichick that the team had chosen him. “God blessed me. I haven’t had any symptoms of my treatment that I’m supposed to have. Everything’s been feeling good.’’

The first TCU player the Patriots have ever drafted, Cannon knew that his stock would slip after his diagnosis and said he was not disappointed that he wasn’t drafted higher despite his initial draft grades coming in so high.

“This is just something I have to go through. God wouldn’t have put this on my plate if it were something that I couldn’t handle,’’ he said. “I knew this was going to happen. Me and my family are here celebrating and we can care less about the other part. Right now we’re real happy that I’m going to be in the NFL.’’

Belichick said the Patriots felt “comfortable’’ selecting Cannon when they did, and acknowledged that because of the labor uncertainty in the league — currently the lockout is back on and teams can have no further contact with draftees or veterans — it made the situation more complicated.

“It’s a very unique situation because as of right now, we don’t have access to the player. We’ve talked about that, but we all understand what the situation is and in the end we felt comfortable enough to make that selection,’’ Belichick said.

Cannon played tackle with the Horned Frogs, but several teams talked with him about moving to guard. Cannon will play wherever he’s asked.

With their second pick in the fifth round, New England chose a tight end — Marshall’s Lee Smith. Smith is the son of Daryle Smith, a former NFL offensive lineman who died last year.

Smith was considered the best blocking tight end in the draft, and he also has some experience long-snapping the ball. He said his father prepared him for a potential pro career.

“Throughout my whole life, he prepared me for most of the mental aspect of the next level,’’ said Smith. “He always told me that it’s pretty much even ground as far as physical attributes go; once you get to that level, as long as you continue to work hard and be as mentally strong as you can be, then you have a good chance to get through it.

“Having his help was something that I’ll never take for granted and something that I wish I had today. I’d give anything to be able to call him and talk about being a Patriot.’’

Smith, who began his career at Tennessee but was dismissed from the team after a DUI arrest, is now a married father of two.

He said he’s “fired up’’ to join a position group that includes veteran Alge Crumpler and two guys who were rookies last year in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.

In the sixth round, New England picked Central Arkansas’s Markell Carter, the only player of the nine they drafted who projects as a pass-rusher.

Carter’s pro day numbers show that he is explosive: the 6-5, 252-pound Oklahoma native flashed a 35-inch vertical and went over 10 feet in the broad jump. A defensive end in college who projects to outside linebacker in a 3-4 system, Carter said he has spent the last few months working out two or three times a day, working on drops and other moves he’ll need at linebacker.

The final pick, 219th overall, was another TCU player: defensive back Malcolm Williams. Williams played sparingly on defense, with 13 tackles in 12 games, but he was a big special-teams contributor, from punt-team gunner to kickoff blocker to kick returner.

And he was as surprised as anyone to get a phone call from Belichick yesterday.

“It surprised me a lot,’’ said Williams. “This is a dream come true.

“I have been waiting on this since I was 7 years old. I can honestly say, I wasn’t expecting to get drafted but when I got that phone call from Belichick, I was really excited.’’

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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