The New England Patriots Player Profiles series for the 2013 offseason continues with another rookie on the defensive side of the ball, as the subject of this profile is seventh-round defensive end Michael Buchanan. Following a 2012 season with just 4.5 sacks at Illinois, Buchanan’s draft stock fell as a result of this drop in raw numbers. But like wide receivers Josh Boyce and Aaron Dobson, the Patriots were willing to overlook the loss of production in his most recent season. Other teams weren’t, and it’s likely why Buchanan slipped all the way to the seventh round, because he was graded as a fourth or fifth-round pick in this draft. The Patriots came away with a great deal when they pulled Buchanan off the board in the seventh, but his roster spot is far from guaranteed.
On the Patriots unofficial depth chart on the official site (a bit ironic, if you ask me), Michael Buchanan is listed as the team’s third-string right end behind Chandler Jones and Jermaine Cunningham. Defensive end is the position where there is going to be the most competition on this roster, in my opinion, and a few young DEs will find themselves either on the practice squad or on the scrap heap. Jake Bequette, Justin Francis, Buchanan, and Cunningham are four significant names who will be competing, and I have a feeling Buchanan has a better shot at making the roster than Cunningham. Even though Cunningham is the better player, he didn’t improve enough last season as a pass rusher (his run defense did improve) in his third season to warrant a long leash. In fact, Cunningham had to survive the bubble last season, and I’m not sure he can do it this year against younger players like Buchanan, who the Pats would likely prefer to check out.
I can’t see Buchanan getting cut out of the picture outright by the Patriots, because they did invest a draft pick in him and he is more talented than his draft slot suggests. The lowest I could see the former Illinois Fighting Illini star ending up is with a practice squad ticket, and that will happen if Buchanan looks slow to learn the ropes in training camp.
Even though he did not hit the five-sack mark last season in college, Buchanan was still a second-team All Big Ten selection by the coaches, just as he was in 2011. In 2011, Buchanan notched 7.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss, but what is more intriguing to me (besides the fact that he was plenty good in the statistics department as a junior) is the numbers that showcase his athleticism. As a senior, Buchanan defended five passes, and he consistently recorded more than 50 tackles.
Buchanan is more than just a pass rusher; he’s a lot like Jamie Collins in a way. It seems like the Patriots are moving towards a more hybrid defense of DEs and LBs, and Collins and Buchanan fit that plan. They are both athletic specimens who can rush the passer and go back and cover, and I think we’ll see Buchanan lined up in various capacities if he does end up seeing the field. Buchanan looks like a “for the future” kind of player, and I think it is realistic to think that the Patriots will develop him on the practice squad and try to groom him as a specialist kind of player on defense. With some seasoning, I can see Buchanan being a top backup for the Pats down the road, and the different qualities he brings to the table were definitely worth the seventh-round pick.
The position at “edge rusher” is too crowded right now for me to think that Michael Buchanan can grab a roster spot outright, but he is talented and versatile enough for me to believe that he will easily crack the practice squad and has a fair shot at making the 53-man roster. Buchanan is an intriguing “elephant” player, and I am willing to bypass a less productive senior year when it comes at just the expense of a seventh-round pick. I think some people are getting ahead of themselves with praising Buchanan, but it’s definitely fair to think that there is upside with him and a realistic expectation is for Buchanan to be a good, versatile backup for the Pats in the future.