Since cut down day, many in the Boston sports media have been expressing disappointment in the Patriots roster in regards to youth talent. Many believe that Bill Belichick has been unsuccessful during the NFL draft over the past few years, and his mistakes are going to set the team up for failure in the future. However, many of these issues are not as severe as people like to think, especially considering that we are more likely to notice the failures rather than the successes. Belichick’s history in recent drafts is not nearly as poor as many are characterizing it to be.
First off, the measure of success is particularly hard to establish with Patriots draft picks. Bryan Stork, drafted in 2014, and Malcolm Mitchell, drafted in 2016, are two prime examples of the problem. Both players started or at least played in, the majority of the team’s regular season games during their rookie seasons. In addition, they both played absolutely critical roles in winning Super Bowls with the Patriots. However, the success of both players did not extend beyond their rookie seasons. So how is success defined? Their longevity was nonexistent, but in their short time here they did exactly what fans expect of players: contribute to a Super Bowl winning team. For the sake of this argument, we can call those players a draw that were neither successful or failed Belichick draft picks.
The 2014 Draft was a relative success for the Patriots, with selections including Jimmy Garroppolo, James White, and Cameron Fleming. White has played a crucial role in the Patriots offense over the past three seasons and has gotten better as his career has advanced. Cameron Fleming left the Patriots in free agency, but his drafting should be considered a success considering he was a swing tackle who helped contribute to two Super Bowl victories. Garoppolo is a mixed bag. Technically he performed his role as a backup quarterback, particularly in the 2016 season when he led the team to two victories. He was also traded away for a higher draft pick than he was originally selected at. However, it could fairly be argued that this is a failed selection because Belichick let him go, or because he did not get enough for him. Dominique Easley, the Patriots first-round pick, is the long dark mark on this draft, as he never panned out in New England.
The 2015 Draft also seems to have a balanced mix of success and failure. Jordan Richards is the most obvious and glaring failure, as the second round pick did not make a noticeable contribution on defense during his three seasons in New England, and was dumped in a trade to the Falcons this past weekend. Tre Jackson was an unsuccessful fourth-round selection. Geneo Grissom is still on the Patriots, but for the sake of this argument, he can be marked as a failure because he was a third-round pick who has been a bubble roster player throughout his career. However, this draft also saw the selections of Trey Flowers, Shaq Mason, and Joe Cardona. Some may laugh at the inclusion of Cardona, but long snappers are not always easy to come by in the NFL. Flowers has become an impressive pass rusher with the potential to become elite. Mason is one of the best right guards in the NFL and just signed a big contract extension with New England. Malcolm Brown is the one neutral selection in this draft. He has been a consistent starter who contributed to a Super Bowl victory in 2016, but he has never really lived up to the hype of a first round pick. The Patriots did not pick up his fifth-year option, making it clear that they are not overly impressed with his career so far.
The 2016 Draft is similar to that of 2015. The Patriots top pick was Cyrus Jones in the second round. This was a clear failure after Jones was cut this past weekend. Vincent Valentine can also be considered a failure, as he was a third-round pick who has consistently been a practice squad/roster bubble player. However, the rest of the draft can be considered a relative success. The Patriots took Joe Thuney in the third round, who went on to start for the Patriots throughout his entire rookie season, including the Super Bowl. He is still the starting left guard two seasons later. The team also took Jacoby Brissett in the third round. Brissett is no longer with the team, but he provided immense value. He was only selected because the team needed a backup to Garoppolo with Brady’s suspension looming. Brissett went 1-1 as a rookie starter and was traded to the Colts the following year for Phillip Dorsett, maximizing the value for a third round QB. The team selected Elandon Roberts in the sixth round of the 2016 draft, and he has been a consistent contributor throughout his career. He has had his fair share of miscues, but he has exceeded his value considering where he was drafted. The team also selected Ted Karras in the sixth round, who remains on the team. He is at least meeting his value as a sixth-round OL pick.
The 2017 draft is naturally hard to determine because the players are only entering their second season. However, some inferences can be made based on their rookie performances and their 2018 preseason appearances. This was the team’s smallest draft, having only selected four players. Antonio Garcia and Conor McDermott are both clearly failures, as McDermott did not make the roster his rookie season, and Garcia was released this spring with an injury designation. However, Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise seem to be successes so far. Rivers tore his ACL during his rookie preseason, but he looked impressive this preseason and seems to be set to contribute in 2018. Wise had a successful rookie season, totaling six sacks and playing meaningful minutes in the Super Bowl. He has the physical tools to develop into an elite pass rusher.
The notion that Belichick is a poor drafter is clearly overblown. The highly publicized failures of Cyrus Jones and Jordan Richards make it seem as if the Patriots have no youth depth on defense. This is not the actual case, as they have good youth talent along the defensive line and some value pieces at linebacker. What people are not focusing on is the success that Belichick has had drafting offensive players. James White, Shaq Mason, and Joe Thuney headline a strong youth base for the Patriots offense.
The Patriots do have some depth issues at defensive back because of Jones and Richards. However, this has less to do with Belichick falling off on his drafting, but rather natural misses that every team experiences with every draft class.
Also, just to put things into perspective, all ten players that the Browns selected in the first round from 2010-2016 are either on other teams or out of the league entirely. Without doing the numbers, I think it’s fair to say that that is a worse hit percentage than Bill Belichick’s.
Until next time – B$