With the NFL Draft less than 6 weeks away, I decided to do an exercise with the Patriots success in the draft (by round) since 2009.
Why 2009? There are only 4 players drafted prior to that year who contributed to the most recent run of championships in any way (Brady in 2000, Wilfork in 2005, Gostkowski in 2006, Slater in 2008). The team’s past 10 drafts should serve to highlight how part of the roster has been built, and where the impact players have been found.
This is going off of a hunch that the Patriots have had more success in the mid-to-late rounds finding talent than the first two rounds; lets see if that is a fair assessment.
2010: Devin McCourty
2011: Nate Solder
2012: Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower
2014: Dominique Easley
2015: Malcolm Brown
2018: Isaiah Wynn, Sony Michel
2009: Patrick Chung, Ron Brace, Darius Butler, Sebastian Vollmer
2010: Rob Gronkowski, Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Spikes
2011: Ras-I Dowling, Shane Vereen
2012: Tavon Wilson
2013: Jamie Collins, Aaron Dobson
2014: Jimmy Garoppolo
2015: Jordan Richards
2016: Cyrus Jones
2018: Duke Dawson
2009: Brandon Tate, Tyrone McKenzie
2010: Taylor Price
2011: Stevan Ridley, Ryan Mallet
2012: Jake Bequette
2013: Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon
2015: Geneo Grissom
2016: Jacoby Brissett, Vincent Valentine
2017: Antonio Garcia
2009: Rich Ohrnberger
2010: Aaron Hernandez
2013: Josh Boyce
2014: James White, Cameron Fleming
2015: Trey Flowers, Tre’ Jackson, Shaq Mason
2016: Malcolm Mitchell
2017: Deatrich Wise
2009: George Bussey
2010: Zoltan Mesko
2011: Marcus Cannon, Lee Smith
2015: Joe Cardona
2018: Ja’Whaun Bentley
2009: Jake Ingram, Myron Pryor
2010: Ted Larsen
2011: Markell Carter
2012: Nate Ebner
2014: Jon Halapio, Zach Moore, Jemea Thomas
2015: Matthew Wells, A.J. Derby
2016: Kamu Grugier-Hill, Elandon Roberts, Ted Karras
2017: Conor McDermott
2018: Christian Sam, Braxton Berrios
2009: Julian Edelman, Darryl Richard
2010: Thomas Welch, Brandon Deaderick, Kade Weston, Zac Robinson
2011: Malcolm Williams
2012: Alfonzo Dennard, Jeremy Ebert
2013: Michael Buchanan, Steve Beauharnais
2014: Jeremy Gallon
2015: Darryl Roberts, Xzavier Dickson
2016: Devin Lucien
2018: Danny Etling, Keion Crossen, Ryan Izzo
Before I begin, here are my criteria:
“hit” – a player who has made an impact for the Patriots for at least one season, and someone who garnered a good return in a trade; going into the later rounds, a hit is more of someone who made the team and had at least one good season than put up multiple All-Pro seasons; half a “hit” is someone who I believe should have been better, or has more to prove (but shows promise)
“foundation piece” – a player who is/was a key to the success of the Patriots over the past decade; someone who the Patriots have built the team around, and has played a significant part in winning a Super Bowl
- Total picks: 8
- Hits: 5.5 – Devin McCourty, Nate Solder, Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower, Malcolm Brown (0.5), Sony Michel
- Foundation pieces: 4 – Solder, McCourty, Jones, Hightower
- Hit rate: 68.75%
- Total picks: 15
- Hits: 8 – Patrick Chung, Sebastian Vollmer, Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Spikes, Shane Vereen, Jamie Collins Jimmy Garoppolo, Jordan Richards
- Foundation pieces: 3 – Chung, Gronk, Collins
- Hit rate: 53.3%%
- Number of picks: 12
- Hits: 3.5 – Stevan Ridley, Logan Ryan, Duron Haromon, Jacoby Brisset (0.5)
- Foundation pieces: none
- Hit rate: 29.2%
- Total picks: 10
- Hits: 6.5 – Aaron Hernandez, James White, Cameron Fleming, Trey Flowers, Shaq Mason, Malcolm Mitchell (0.5), Deatrich Wise
- Foundation pieces: 4 – Hernandez, White, Flowers, Mason
- Hit rate: 65%
- Number picks: 6
- Hits: 2.5 – Marcus Cannon, Joe Cardona, Ja’Whaun Bentley (0.5)
- Foundation pieces: none
- Hit rate: 41.7%
- Number of picks: 16
- Hits: 2 – Nate Ebner, Elandon Roberts
- Foundation pieces: none
- Hit rate: 12.5%
- Number of picks: 18
- Hits: 2 – Julian Edelman, Alfonzo Denard
- Foundation pieces: 1- Edelman
- Hit rate: 11.1%
Based on my criteria, the Patriots have only picked two more “foundation” pieces in the first two rounds than rounds 4-7 since 2009. I’m not sure what the normal “hit” rate is in the NFL based on my criteria, but from what I observed, they are fine in the first round, seem to be bad in the third round, and have rather good success in the fourth round.
My opinion is since the Patriots have only made 8 first round picks since 2009, that makes their success rate in that round seem a lot worse than it is. However, the fact that there were the same amount of players in the fourth round who became key pieces to the roster than the first is an issue.
It might be as simple as if the team had more picks in the first round and the same success rate, it would be a smaller problem. The other logical point might be that since they have found key players in other rounds that have played vital roles, such as Julian Edelman in the 7th round in 2009, their success in doing that in the later rounds makes you think “well why can’t they do this sooner, and more frequently?”
Once again, I am basing this off my own observations, but since you have Tom Brady as a 6th round pick and Edelman as a 7th round pick, it comes off as the team is bad at drafting players early. In reality, key players on Super Bowl teams: Devin McCourty, Nate Solder, Dont’a Hightower, Chandler Jones, Patrick Chung, Rob Gronkowski, and Jamie Collins were picked in the first two rounds. As you might be thinking, players on that list have been replaced over time, and the team has continued to win in spite of them, so maybe that fact adds to the idea that the team is inferior at drafting.
Another note: the team has had success with undrafted players the past decade, which adds to the idea they can find talent anywhere. Malcolm Butler, Ryan Allen, David Andrews, James Devlin, Dan Connolly, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, etc. played key roles in New England over the years. “Why not just draft them?” which is a valid question.
I will say that certain gaps in times of finding successful players in certain rounds is worrisome. Due to not picking in the first round in 2013, 2016 and 2017, and not hitting in 2014 and 2015 (Malcolm Brown is half a “hit”), there was a 6-year interval between “hits” in the first round. There is also a similar gap that seems to be taking place in the second and third round, as there has not been a “hit” in the second round since 2014 (no, I am not a fan of Cyrus Jones), and in the third round since 2013 (Jacoby is half a “hit”). Their success in the fourth round in recent drafts has really been crucial to keeping young talent on the team if we’re being honest.
Clearly the team does not have an issue building a roster, you don’t win 3 Super Bowls in 5 seasons if you’re bad at it, but there is also the reality that the team is getting older. Yes, injuries to players like Malcolm Mitchell and Antonio Garcia play a role in this reality, but it is nevertheless a reality the team lives in. However, this year the Patriots have 12 draft picks, and a true chance to infuse some young talent onto the team. Plus, there are players picked last season who played either a bit, or not at all, and look like they have potential to contribute (i.e. Isaiah Wynn), so that will need to be taken into consideration when considering their success in the draft over the years.
Should we be worried about GM Bill Belichick’s ability to obtain talent early, or praise Coach Bill Belichick for coaching up players drafted later (or not at all) that others passed on? I think you could argue it’s a little bit of both, but after looking into it, I’m less worried about his ability to find talent through the draft where most expect it. If you look at it, he has drafted someone each year who has either started, will likely start soon (i.e. Deatrich Wise), or was used as a trade piece for a current contributor (i.e. Jacoby Brissett for Phillip Dorsett). He has had worse years than other (2017 currently is less on par with say 2010), but he finds value.
Wrapping it up, here’s a tweet that shows the more picks Belichick has in a draft, the more likely New England will find key players (see: plural) in the years to come.
If the Patriots make at least 10 draft picks in this upcoming draft, recent history tells us they will find their next key contributors; watch out, NFL.
Follow Nick on Twitter (@Nick_Collins14)