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Michael Buchanan: The Steal of the Draft?

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Former Illinois defensive lineman Michael Buchanan wound up slipping to the Patriots in the seventh round of the draft, and could become a dominant defensive player. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Former Illinois defensive lineman Michael Buchanan wound up slipping to the Patriots in the seventh round of the draft, and could become a dominant defensive player. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Most of the time when college players are drafted in the seventh round of any NFL draft, it doesn’t guarantee much in terms of playing time, a roster spot or even the practice squad. For the Patriots in 2012, the team was fortunate enough to have cornerback Alfonzo Dennard slip to the seventh round after an altercation at a Lincoln, Neb., nightclub that dropped his stock. But Dennard ended up starting for the team in the latter half of the season and being one of the few exceptions of the last round.

For the second year in a row, the Patriots have another potential seventh-round steal in Illinois defensive end slash linebacker Michael Buchanan.

Buchanan slipped in the draft for similar reasons as Dennard – off-the-field incidents. Buchanan was arrested and charged with driving under the influence in 2010, and got in an altercation between his junior and senior years at Illinois that led to a broken jaw. His mouth was wired shut, limiting him to a strict liquid diet. Buchanan lost 20 pounds then and saw a drastic reduction in his numbers from his junior to senior seasons.

 But his defensive coordinator at Illinois, Tim Banks, told the media that there is no harder worker than Buchanan. He spends a lot of his time in the gym, which is certainly where he’ll need to be to attain the desired weight the Patriots will likely want him at.

Right now, Buchanan is listed at 255 pounds (6-foot-6). And for a defensive end, that is on the light side. Pre-draft scouting reports listed Buchanan’s weaknesses as lacking upper-body strength and easily getting pushed off the line. A lot of that can be fixed with some upper-body muscle.

That may be a valid reason for Buchanan to spend a year on the Patriots’ practice squad. Originally Buchanan was listed as a potential second-round selection, but fell for reasons already mentioned.

It’s entirely possible Buchanan makes the team and contributes on defense, but for a seventh-round selection with some history, the more feasible option and “Patriot way” would be to let Buchanan suffer an “injury” in the offseason so he can be placed on injured reserve. Should he make the opening day roster, he’ll likely start off in punt formations.

But there is an unbelievable upside when it comes to Buchanan. As a junior, he racked up 64 tackles and 7.5 sacks (he had 14 total sacks in his 46 career games played at Illinois). And for a player whose defensive coordinator in college said, “I believe his best football is ahead of him,” Buchanan seems like a player the Patriots want to hang onto for development.

Buchanan has some steep competition this offseason for a spot on the defensive line, especially with added competition from Armond Armstead, Tommy Kelly and last year’s sensation Rob Ninkovich.

What the Patriots like most about Buchanan is not just his length, but his speed and ability to drop into coverage as a defensive lineman. That is the direction this organization has decided to take its defense, and Buchanan is a model for that scheme. At worst, he provides some added competition for this group of linemen, who will have to work very hard to beat out the seventh-round rookie.