The Patriots have nine draft picks at their disposal in April, but in practice their draft class will be even larger. Two players chosen last year, linebacker Tyrone McKenzie and wide receiver Brandon Tate, suffered injuries that kept them out for virtually all of last year. In their belated rookie season, both could make significant impact.
The Patriots searched for a third receiver all year. The answer in 2010 could be Tate, an electrifying college player at North Carolina whose career was cut short by a vicious knee injury his senior season. On a punt return, he tore both his MCL and ACL.
This year, Tate appeared in only two games before the Patriots placed him on injured reserve on the eve of their Week 10 game against the Colts. The move was a scare given Tate’s injury history. But his prospects for a full recovery this year seem strong: He had only a minor surgery, a procedure done merely to clean up his knee, according to a source close to the Patriots.
Tate seems confident about his ability to return at full strength. Earlier this offseason, he told the Times-News of Burlington, N.C., his hometown paper, that his knee felt good. When asked about his chance to play again at the height of his ability, he told the paper, “You wait until next year and see.”
That’s a good sign for the Patriots. At Carolina, Tate was considered an equal prospect to then-teammate Hakeem Nicks before tearing up his knee. He set the NCAA record for return yards and could also give the Patriots a needed boost in their kick return game.
Wide receiver is definitely a need position for the Patriots. They lacked production behind Randy Moss and Wes Welker, and hey can’t be certain of Welker’s 2010 status. Between Julian Edelman’s late emergence and the chance of Tate’s positive impact, they may be able to fill other pressing needs early in the draft.