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Pats undeterred from picking Cannon after cancer diagnosis

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Marcus Cannon went to the NFL combine in February to impress scouts. Then medical tests ordered there turned up some grim news.

They showed he had cancer.

On Saturday, two days after his first chemotherapy treatment, the offensive lineman from TCU got much better news. He was drafted by the New England Patriots.

"Me and my family were pretty ecstatic," Cannon said. "After all that we figured out in the last couple of weeks, it's a blessing to have this opportunity to play in the NFL."

Cannon knew the diagnosis of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma would cause teams to pass on him after he was projected as a possible second- or third-round pick. The Patriots took him in the fifth round, projecting him as a guard after he played tackle in college. New England has a vacancy at that spot after Stephen Neal retired.

"He's a very highly rated player," coach Bill Belichick said. "We're comfortable with the situation and all that it entails."

The 22-year-old, a 358-pound native of the football hotbed of Odessa, Texas, had been rolling toward the NFL.

Cannon allowed no sacks in his last two seasons while protecting the blind side of quarterback Andy Dalton. TCU beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl to finish at 13-0. Then he went to the combine in Indianapolis.

That's where one of the teams that examined him ordered a biopsy.

"The biopsy," Cannon said, "confirmed that something was wrong."

He doesn't know if he'll be ready for the start of next season, but said he feels "awesome" without any of the side effects associated with the treatment.

"I'm just taking my treatment day by day," Cannon said.

The diagnosis of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma didn't send him into a panic. He decided to do whatever doctors told him. And he waited for the draft.

"It really hasn't been as emotional as you'd expect," he said. "God's kept us pretty settled, has kept us pretty patient. So everything has been taken care of."

Cannon said he doesn't know how many more treatments he'll have. He freely talks about his condition and is excited to be headed to the Patriots.

"Me and my family are here celebrating that," he said. "We could care less about the other part right now. We're just really happy that I'm going to be in the NFL.

"I bring a big frame that moves as fast as everybody else or faster, a lot of power. I bring a good personality to the team."

The Patriots took Cannon with the 10th pick of the fifth round, the 138th overall. They obtained that from Houston on Friday along with a third-rounder they used to draft running back Stevan Ridley of LSU. They sent the Texans the ninth pick of the fifth round and the 10th pick of the sixth.

With their other three choices on Saturday, New England went for tight end Lee Smith of Marshall in the fifth round, outside linebacker Markell Carter of Central Arkansas in the sixth and defensive back Malcolm Williams, who had 16 of his 22 tackles in two years at TCU on special teams, in the seventh. He describes Cannon, his college teammate, as "a big jokester."

Belichick decided to draft another tight end even though he took Rob Gronkowski in the second round and Aaron Hernandez in the fourth last year. Hernandez had 45 catches for six touchdowns. Gronkowski had 42 catches for 10 touchdowns. Alge Crumpler is an outstanding blocker at that position.

"It fires me up to see two- and three- and four tight-end sets on the field," said Smith, a powerful blocker who caught 38 passes last season. "I'm going to compete just like I would if I was the only tight end on the team."

The Patriots took Carter after struggling with their pass rush last season when their 36 sacks were 14th in the NFL. He was just the second defensive player they chose. On Friday, they took cornerback Ras-I Dowling of Virginia with the first pick of the second round.

New England made three trades during the draft, compared with seven in each of the last two years, and restocked next year's meager total of picks. They had just five in 2012 -- one in each of the first five rounds -- but picked up a first-round pick from New Orleans and a second-rounder from Oakland.

The Patriots' other picks were tackle Nate Solder of Colorado in the first round, running back Shane Vereen of California in the second and quarterback Ryan Mallett of Arkansas in the third.

Normally, Belichick would spend time immediately after the draft trying to sign rookie free agents. With the NFL lockout in place, he can't do that.

"We had kind of a different set of rules for the draft choices, but now that the draft's over, all players are the same whether they're rookies or 10-year veterans," he said. "We can't negotiate with those players or communicate with those players at the present time."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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