First Round selections tend to be hit or miss in today's NFL. There is incredible pressure that comes with playing football at this level, compounded by the inference that the higher a player is selected, the more is expected very early... teams expect players to come in and perform right away.
And players can either make it big or bust like a balloon; just look back at the 1999 draft and the two top picks. Peyton Manning is an All-Star, while Ryan Leaf wilted like a, well, a leaf. It happens every year.
Aqib Talib has excelled at every level he has played. In High School in Richardson, TX, he achieved all district and all city honors while cementing himself as a talented defensive football player. He followed that with similar dominance at Kansas, earning unanimous first-team All-American selection and grabbing MVP honors in the Orange Bowl his junior season.
But Talib nearly derailed his NFL career with a drug-related suspension, as well as, trouble with the law and a general bad-boy attitude that was most-likely the reason for his precarious status in Tampa Bay. But one thing is sure, Talib was exactly as advertized: an interception machine, who ball-hawked better than almost any cornerback in the league.
New England was a team in need of defensive talent. Especially in the secondary, they had struggled for several years to put enough pieces in place to disrupt the passing games of the better teams and quarterbacks.
In 2012, before the addition of Talib, the New England secondary led the league giving up plays over 20 yards. After Talib, they surrendered that position and looked as though they could ride that defense to a fourth ring... until Talib came up limp in the AFC Championship game. They would succumb to the Ravens in a heart breaking loss.
But they had found the shut-down corner that has been missing since Asante Samuel left town. While there were high expectations for rookie Alphonso Dennard as the new kid on the block, Talib was the ultra-talented veteran who was hired to be the backbone of this defense.
And Bill Belichick had a history of moves like this. Cory Dillon is a perfect example of bad-boy turned hero for a team that has always preached team-first play and an accountability that is second to none.
While other trouble-makers have come and gone, a select few have found a home in New England and fit right in. Enter Aqib Talib. His injury concerns may still play a role in his ability to continue with an otherwise successful career haunting opposing QBs; but make no mistake, Talib fulfilled his billing as a top player and corner in the NFL, and landing with the Patriots was a match made in football heaven for both parties.
Talib's absence is felt just as much as his presence on the field. He is felt when he is tackling and picking the ball out of the air, and when he goes down, the tenor of the defense changes with him. Perhaps his future will be decided by his health, but Patriot Nation is rooting for this talented back to spend a long time in New England.
The Patriots employ a system that encourages cooperation over showmanship, but it is the winning attitude that comes from the top down that makes this team the model franchise in the world of football. Robert Kraft doesn't fool around, and his hiring of Belichick is just one of many pieces to that puzzle.
While Talib is just the latest player to benefit from the system that has produced the most successful franchise in the last decade and a half, similar pieces will be sought and found and added to a corps of players that, though constantly changing, always follows the Patriot Way.
If you don't fit, you don't play... it is a simple formula. Talib just fits, though it may be said that he had to come to a place in his life and career where he had little choice but to blend, as well as, lead, both with his attitude to get it right, and his ability to kill it on the field. This is the strength he has found to continue playing football and to do it the way it ought to be done. It's what he needed; it's what the Patriots needed, in 2012-13.