FOXBORO -- There was a chance that if Michael Buchanan decided to leave school for the NFL Draft after his junior season, he never would have lasted until the seventh round. He registered 7.5 sacks that year and 13.5 tackles for a loss, and at 6-foot-5, he looked the part of an ideal defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid.
But he promised his mother that he'd finish school and returned to Illinois for his senior season. The plan was to get his degree in communications, and possibly improve on his already impressive football resume.
Then in June of last year, he got in a fight. His jaw was broken and had to be wired shut. He lost 20 pounds as a result.
Buchanan's production dipped in his senior season -- he finished with 4.5 sacks and 7 tackles for a loss -- but the Patriots took him with their first of two seventh-round picks on Saturday.
"He’s had a good, productive career at Illinois," Bill Belichick said following the draft. "He’s played with a lot of good pass rushers up there. He’s had production every year in a good conference, a steady player."
In a conference call with reporters, Buchanan spoke about the disparity in his numbers between his junior and senior seasons. He didn't blame his broken jaw, or the weight he lost, as the reason why his play didn't meet the standard he set in 2011.
"No, I wouldn’t tie that in," Buchanan said. "The jaw situation was a bad time in my life, but I learned a lot from it. I think I became a better man from it and I just hope it will never happen again."
Though staying for his senior season may have hurt his draft stock, Buchanan said he has no regrets.
"That's something that I promised my mother I would do, as far as getting my degree and everything," he said. "I wanted to get closer to doing that. I bled orange and I wanted to be there to finish out with my teammates. I believed that we had something good going. Everything didn't go as we expected, but I’m glad I made the decision to come back."
If Buchanan can play up to his considerable potential, the Patriots will be glad they made the decision to take him. He could stand to bulk up, but he's athletic -- he had the third-fastest three-cone drill among defensive lineman -- and scouts say he has strong hands befitting an NFL pass-rusher.
Going higher in the draft would have been nice, but Buchanan is just happy he has a chance to play for what he calls "the best organization in football."
"It was a little bit frustrating," Buchanan said of being taken in the draft's final round. "But like I said before, I have a great opportunity in front of me. This is a lifelong dream. To even get my name called is a blessing. My family celebrated -- you would have thought I was the first pick in the draft, it didn’t matter. The biggest thing is I’m a Patriot now and I have a great opportunity in front of me. I’m going to make the best of it. I’m not too worried about that."