Patriots Draft pick Brandon Tate was selected by the New England Patriots in the third round (83rd overall) of the 2009 NFL Draft. When he was, many wondered if the talented North Carolina product could put his troubled past and injury behind him to be the player the Patriots hope he can become.
Patriots Insider caught up with former NFL Scout Tom Marino to ask about the Patriots Draft class. Marino was kind enough to share his pre draft notes about the players, including Tate whom he described as one of the better picks in the Draft.
"Very talented," Marino said of his first impression of Tate. "He's a very talented kid and has the most speed of all those receivers. Of course he was faster before the injury, quite obviously."
|Tate finished with NCAA record 3,523 career combined kick & punt return yards to pass Deltha O'Neal (1996-99) AP Photo|
Tate was mostly a return specialist for the Tarheels till his senior season. He earned All-ACC honorable mention from the AP in 2007-08. His ability to create game-changing plays when he touched the ball, put more attention on him as a returner than a receiver. Unfortunately for Tate, teammates Hakeem Nicks and Brooks Foster garnered the majority of attention in UNC's receiving corp.
At UNC, Tate was on pace to set the NCAA record for combined yardage before his injury. He finished just 304 yards shy of the NCAA record for kickoff return yardage( set by Jeff Liggon of Tulane 2,992 yards from 1993-96) He did set the NCAA record for combined kick return yardage (punts and kickoffs) in the win vs the Miami Hurricanes.
Tate usurped first-round pick and former Patriot Deltha O'Neal's record 3,455 return yards from 1996-99 while at California. Tate finished with 3,523 career kick return yards.
Most scouting reports on Tate indicate he's a longer-term project than a short-term solution. Marino agreed. Between the injury and the need to polish his receiving techniques, the upside of Tate's rookie season will be if he recovers soon enough to remain on the active roster and isn't redshirted via the I/R list. The other challenge he faces is to prove he's mature enough to earn a big paycheck as a professional football player and stay out of trouble the kind of trouble which followed him at UNC.
Tate ran into a few speed bumps at UNC. He suffered a traumatic knee injury, which caused his stock to fall in the Draft. Prior to the NFL Combine reports surfaced questioning his character and involvement with drugs. He tested positive for marijuana; something he admits was a mistake.
"He tested positive [for marijuana] at the Combine," said Marino. "That tells me a couple of things. You wonder how smart he is."
Marino didn't need to finish his thought; it was the same thought many others had. What was Tate thinking? He headed to the biggest interview in his professional career and had to know he would be tested at the NFL Combine, yet still used a recreational drug.
"I know I had made a mistake, and now that's behind me," Tate said of the incident later. "I'm just moving forward, getting ready to go to the NFL and play for the Patriots."
Tate broke the NCAA return record vs Miami
The apology wasn't much, but it's not the public he owed the apology to, it was to his potential employers. The Patriots obviously thought highly enough of his potential, and his explanation to select the talented receiver despite the test.
Marino delved deep into his notes on Tate's background, from being an unmarried parent to having strong family bonds. The former scout gave Tate's background a thumbs-up despite the potential negative issues surrounding the North Carolina native.
Tate was a good friend with a "red flag" guy, UNC running back Barrington Edwards. After Edwards was kicked off the team for off-field issues. Tate finally put some distance between himself and the trouble which surrounds players with off-field problems.
Feedback from those around Tate told Marino that he's a hard worker, he gets "football" concepts (An indication he can learn an offense), he's in good condition and he's strong.
Those are desirable attributes in any player, especially a rookie receiver.
"The strong point about him is that his return experience is 'very good' with 24.7 yards per return and a 10.8 punt return average," Marino said, indicating that Tate could be the Patriots' next return man on special teams.
Some of the negatives Marino mentioned from the scouting report were that Tate was inconsistent with his route running and had difficulty in reading coverages, which translated into his lack of adjusting the route based upon sight lines. .
According to Marino, Tate is a good complimentary receiver, but not polished enough to be your No. 1 guy. "You can plug him in as a return and let him learn the receiver position," Marino suggested.
Returner or backup receiver is about where rookies end up on the Patriots depth chart when they arrive. The more they can do, the more likely they are to make the roster. Rarely do wide receivers start as rookies in the NFL, and with Randy Moss and Wes Welker in front of him, there's no chance of that happening in New England.
The upside for Tate is that he can learn from some of the best receivers in the NFL, a quarterback who is Hall of Fame worthy, and a coach who is widely recognized as being one of the best in the business.
"I'm [excited] to come here. I know one of them is going to take me under their wing, and whatever they tell me, it's got to be the right thing because they're [each] one of the best," Tate said of learning under the veteran wideouts. "I'm glad I'm on a team like this, and I just want to learn to get better."
If his actions follow his words, he's on the right track.