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Where Are They Now: Kevin O’Connell, QB, San Diego State

2008 third round pick Kevin O'Connell lasted just a year and a half in New England. (Photo by Tim Farrell/The Star-Ledger)

With the NFL draft right around the corner, we have decided to walk you down memory lane with some New England Patriots draft picks from years ago and where they currently are in the NFL — or anywhere else for that matter.

Kevin O’Connell | QB | San Diego State University

After multiple pre-draft trips to San Diego by former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the Patriots felt they got a steal with San Diego State University quarterback Kevin O’Connell. The Patriots drafted O’Connell in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft and quickly O’Connell received praise in the media.

Ron Jaworski, an ESPN NFL analysis, marveled at the selection calling O’Connell the third best quarterback in the 2008 draft behind Boston College’s Matt Ryan and Delaware’s Joe Flacco. Standing at 6’5″, 225 pounds and running the 40-yard dash at an impressive 4.61 mark, O’Connell certainly looked the part.

With the then-untested Matt Cassel as the No. 2 quarterback, O’Connell figured to be a long-term developmental prospect for New England. When O’Connell joined the club in 2008, Tom Brady was nearing 31 years old, so it seemed logical at the time for O’Connell to be the heir-apparent to Brady.

However, that was not the case — not even close.

O’Connell struggled early on with his accuracy and in the limited action he saw in preseason. In three games in August, O’Connell passed for 140 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Although only a rookie, the Patriots hoped for more progress out of O’Connell at this point. Ironically, 2008 just so happened to be the year that Brady went down with ACL injury. The rest of the story, as they say, is history. Cassel filled in for No. 12 and led the Patriots to an 11-5 record, before being traded and signing a 6-year, $63 million deal with the Kansas City Chiefs. Meanwhile O’Connell never lived up to his potential.

With Cassel gone, 2009 was thought to be O’Connell’s year. The Patriots brought in a pair of quarterbacks that off-season to compete with O’Connell, but ultimately I don’t think anyone really thought O’Connell would lose the backup job. The first was a washed-up, putrid Andrew Walter, who had one of the worst tenures a player could have in Oakland. The other was undrafted rookie free agent Brian Hoyer. Hoyer, famously appeared every five minutes on ESPN’s 2009 draft coverage. For the entire second day of the draft, ESPN draft guru Todd McShay showered moral boosting comments Hoyer’s way, in an attempt to defer the sheer awkwardness of the telecast. Hoyer inevitably never got drafted.

With a washed up veteran and undrafted free agent standing in his way, there was no way O’Connell could stumble, right? Wrong. Before you could blink, the Patriots released the media’s and fan’s future Hall of Fame quarterback. O’Connell got the axe after a poor showing against Washington in the preseason. O’Connell went 3-10 with two interceptions.

After his release, O’Connell signed with the Detroit Lions, to be traded less than a week later to the New York Jets for a 2011 seventh round draft choice. In true Rex Ryan fashion, O’Connell was named team captain in the Sept. 20 showdown against his former team. O’Connell didn’t take a snap in 2009 with the Jets and spent all of 2010 on injured reserve.

O’Connell, like the majority of NFL draft picks, never lived up to the unrealistic expectations placed on him. At just 25 years old, we would like to say that O’Connell still has time to develop into a serviceable backup quarterback in the NFL, but even that might be placing too much on the Knoxville, Tenn. native.

Follow me on Twitter: @M_Marcantonio

About Matthew Marcantonio - @M_Marcantonio

Matthew Marcantonio is the Patriots and college football editor at Sports of Boston. Marcantonio has contributed for two newspapers; the Sentinel & Enterprise (Leominster, Mass) and The Advocate (Baton Rouge, La) and held internships with The Bleacher Report and Sports Illustrated.

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