Playing 'make or break' with 3rd year Pats

On NFL.com, Bucky Brooks writes on third-year players across the NFL who face "make or break" situations. No Patriots appear on his list.

The third-year marker is often a fork in the football road for high draft picks. By this point, they've had two years to establish themselves, often given a bit more time because of their draft status and the financial commitments teams have made to them.

Former Patriots cornerback Terrence Wheatley, a 2008 second-round draft choice, made that point last year at this time.

"I think the one thing that has my attention now is that the time is now," Wheatley said. "You can't have any more 'free' years. If you got it, you got it. If you don't, you don't."

Wheatley didn't make it through the entire season with the Patriots, as he was waived and landed with the Jaguars.

This year, here is one view on the top third-year players in "make or break" situations based on their draft status:

1. CB Darius Butler (second round, 41st overall) -- He opened 2010 as the starter on the right side, stepping in after veteran Leigh Bodden landed on season-ending injured reserve. But he lost the starting job to Kyle Arrington in Week 3, never got it back, and now the Patriots have added cornerback Ras-I Dowling in the 2011 draft (second round, 33rd overall).

2. Rich Ohrnberger (fourth round, 123rd overall) -- The Patriots have questions at guard -- starting left guard Logan Mankins has been assigned the franchise tag and starting right guard Stephen Neal has retired -- so the opportunity is there for Ohrnberger. The Patriots felt strongly enough about him to trade two fifth-round picks (acquired for veteran cornerback Ellis Hobbs) to move up to select him. Ohrnberger has appeared in five games (0 starts) over his first two seasons.

3. DL Ron Brace (second round, 40th overall) -- Brace played just 50 snaps as a rookie, mostly at nose tackle as Vince Wilfork's backup. The club moved him to left defensive end in 2010 and it seemed like a better fit for him in the team's scheme. Brace got off to a tough start in 2010 training camp -- opening on the physically unable to perform list -- and his season ended in late December when he sustained an elbow injury. At 6-foot-3, 330 pounds, Brace has NFL size. After playing in 13 games (5 starts) in 2010, can he take the next step to full-time contributor?

Others to consider: Safety Patrick Chung (second round, 34th overall); receiver Brandon Tate (third round, 83rd overall); defensive lineman Myron Pryor (sixth round, 207th overall); receiver Julian Edelman (seventh round, 232nd overall); defensive lineman Darryl Richard (seventh round, 234th overall).