This is the third installment of a multi-part review and grading of the previous drafts of the New England Patriots in the Bill Belichick era. With little free agent news and rookie mini-camps quietly running, the Patriots and other NFL teams are in a quiet period until training camp kicks off in July; therefore, this is an excellent period in the NFL schedule to look back and re-grade the previous drafts of the Bill Belichick led New England Patriots. As a note, these draft grades take into account the player’s impact in New England weighed against the other players who were available at the time, as well as the the strength of the draft as a whole that season. Below is the revisit and re-grading of Bill Belichick’s first draft as a Super Bowl champion in New England: the 2002 NFL Draft.
The Patriots completed the 2001 season with an improbable run to the Super Bowl beating Oakland in the “Snow Game (in New England)/Tuck Rule (everywhere else) Game” with the controversy of the officials using replay to make the correct call (there had been a similar situation where a turnover was overturned against the Patriots defense in a regular season game earlier that season, so coach Bill Belichick was aware of the rule and how it could apply in that situation). They followed that with an exciting victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game. Then came the amazing Super Bowl victory over the two-touchdown favorite St. Louis Rams behind second-year 6th round draft pick Tom Brady, who had come off the bench to replace local legend Drew Bledsoe at quarterback earlier in the season and never relinquished the job.
The Patriots headed into the 2002 draft with their usual assortment of picks (other than their 6th round pick which was traded in 2000) and an extra 5th round pick from Jacksonville on a draft day trade in 2001. However, this draft was dominated by the news of the trade the Patriots made with division rival, Buffalo, where they sent their quarterback who had rescued the franchise back in the early 1990s to the Bills for their 2003 first round pick.
As hard as it may be to recall after all the years of excellence from quarterback Tom Brady, there was a big split between the fan base as to keep the quarterback in jersey #11 or #12. At the time, it was clear that the team could not keep both: Brady had won the Super Bowl and Drew Bledsoe had signed a then-record contract and no team was going to have the highest-paid player in the league as a back-up. Remember, in the AFC Championship game, Brady had left the game with a leg injury, and Bledsoe had come off the bench to throw the touchdown before half-time that was the difference in the game and sent New England to the Super Bowl.
Because of the 9-11 terrorist attacks that year, there was no usual two-week break between the championship games and the Super Bowl. The local and national media were able to rehash the entire Brady or Bledsoe debate that had lingered all season with the added caveat of Drew Bledsoe having come off the bench to lead the team to victory, had played in a Super Bowl, and was not injured like Tom Brady. Fortunately, the Patriots made the right choice in the Super Bowl–as they had made during the season–and on the second day of the draft, the Patriots made the correct decision to trade Bledsoe to Buffalo.
1st Round #21: Daniel Graham, Tight End:
The New England Patriots wasted no time moving around the draft, as they packaged their 1st round pick (#32) with their 3rd round pick (#96) and 7th round pick (#234) to Washington for the #21 pick in the first round. With visions of an offense built around two tight-ends percolating in the brain of Bill Belichick a decade ago, the Patriots grabbed Daniel Graham, a big, athletic target out of Colorado. Graham was intended to be the big, red-zone target the offense was looking for over the next few years. While the team benefitted from his in-line blocking skills in winning two more Super Bowls, and he did once contribute 7 touchdowns in a season, there is no doubt that Graham did not exactly fill the niche that the Patriots had in mind for him when they traded up to get him.
Should have drafted: On one hand, the Patriots could indicate that at least they did not take linebacker Napoleon Harris (#23), or cornerback Mike Rumph (#27) and at least Graham did not bring the head-aches that the other 1st round tight ends, Jerramy Stevens (#28) and Jeremy Shockey (#14), brought to Seattle and the New York Giants respectively. However, when looking at the draft that year, the best pick of the draft that year was at #24 overall, so other than Carolina at #2 (hard to argue with picking an athletic freak like Julius Peppers), and Indianapolis at #11 (Dwight Freeney was a controversial pick at the time) 20 teams–including the Patriots–passed over a safety from the University of Miami named Ed Reed. Denver wasted it’s 1st round pick (#19) on wide receiver Ashley Lelie; Dallas took defensive back Roy Williams over Reed at #8 overall instead of Reed; Arizona took Wendell Bryant #12 overall, and he was out of the league in three years; Cleveland took Boston College running back William Green at #16 and Atlanta took running back T.J. Duckett at #18: this draft had a lot of misses in the 1st round. However, for Bill Belichick, it must hurt thinking how close he was to adding Ed Reed to a defensive back-field with Lawyer Milloy and Ty Law in the 2002 draft.
2nd Round #65: Deion Branch, Wide Receiver:
The New Patriots continued to add weapons for their young quarterback early in the draft, grabbing Louisville wide receiver Deion Branch. Putting aside the contentious contract negotiations that led the Patriots to send Branch to Seattle before bringing him back as a veteran safety-blanket on the outside, Branch was a home run in New England and played a huge role in the Super Bowl victories after the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Branch never had a 1000 yard season (although 998 yards in 2005 is close enough), but his ability to step-in to the lineup and step-up in big games (4 100-yard receiving games in the playoffs) was key for the Patriots.
Should have drafted: As the last pick of the 2nd round, there were few players taken in the 3rd round that had that kind of impact. Carolina grabbed linebacker Will Witherspoon at #73 and San Diego grabbed linebacker Ben Leber at #71, and Philadelphia got running back Brian Westbook at #91, but compared to the players taken after him, Branch was the best player there. Seven other receivers went before Branch in the second round (Jabar Gaffney, #31, Josh Reed #36, Tim Carter #46, Andre Davis #47, Reche Caldwell #48, Antwann Randle El #62, Antonio Bryant #63) and none had the impact that Branch had in his first four years (plus value from the trade to Seattle for their 1st round pick in 2007) in New England.
4th Round #117: Rohan Davey, Quarterback:
The Patriots traded up in the 4th round, sending their pick (#131) with their 5th round pick (#144) to move up and get their back-up quarterback of the future in Rohan Davey, the strong-armed LSU product. Unfortunately, Davey did not pan out in New England, or in the league. Out of the NFL after the 2004 season, Davey never made the next step in his development.
Should have drafted: Two very good linebackers came off the board after Davey, Larry Foote went to the Steelers at #128 and Scott Fujita went to the Chiefs at #143. That said, getting ahead of the Dolphins in the fourth round at #114 would have gotten the team the most productive tight end of the draft, Randy McMichael and Jacksonville grabbed quarterback David Garrard a few spots ahead at #108 in the 4th round.
4th Round #126, Jarvis Green, Defensive End:
The Patriots obtained this second 4th-round pick from Green Bay for mercurial receiver Terry Glenn (along with another 4th round pick in 2003). In the middle of round four the Patriots snagged another LSU product in the pass-rushing specialist Jarvis Green. Not a starter in New England, Green did well as a third-down pass rush specialist and contributed on special teams.
Should have drafted: Three of the next five picks in the draft never played a down in a regular season game. Defensive tackle Rocky Bernard went to Oakland at #147 and would have helped on the interior of the line, but Green was overall a good fit on the championship defense and likely would have been a starter for another team in his peak seasons.
7th Round #237: Antwoine Womack, Running Back:
The Patriots traded their second 5th round pick to Dallas for a 2003 5th round pick and snagged a 7th round pick in 2002 as part of the deal. The Patriots had no sixth round pick, having traded that years earlier to the Rams for wide receiver Dane Looker. Looker never panned-out in New England, nor did Womack, who failed to make the team and never played a down in the regular season in the NFL.
Should have drafted: Pittsburgh snared bearded defensive end Brett Keisel at #242.
7th Round #253: David Givens, Wide Receiver:
Givens, taken only 8 picks ahead of the so-called “Mr. Irrelevant” as the last player selected, came out of Notre Dame and–after using his rookie season to earn a roster spot playing special teams–contributed on the 2003 and 2004 Super Bowl teams as one of the regular starting wide receivers. After a strong season in 2005, Givens was lured away in free agency by Tennessee. Unfortunately, injuries derailed his career. In his four years in New England, Givens was a steal considering his draft position.
Should have drafted: The only other player in the draft after Givens who contributed was Rock Cartwright, fullback and special-teams player for Washington.
The 1st round pick was solid, but not spectacular. The 2nd and 7th round picks, Deion Branch and David Givens, remain the only two wide receivers the team drafted and developed into contributors. For three years, the Patriots had their two draft picks regularly lined up outside on a championship caliber team. Round 4 had one wash-out (Rohan Davey) and one solid contributor (Jarvis Green). The other 7th round pick never played. With only 6 picks, it seems light for a Bill Belichick team; however, the Patriots got some serious bang for their buck with three starters on offense and a solid contributor for the defense.
Overall Draft Grade: B+