Welcome to the fifth installment of a multi-part review and grading of the previous drafts of the New England Patriots under coach and executive Bill Belichick. As the Patriots are beginning their “voluntary” organized team activities along with their other NFL counterparts, this period of preparing for the 2013 season until the kickoff of the official training camp in July is often the only down time in the NFL calendar. Now is an ideal time to look back and re-grade the previous drafts of the New England Patriots while under the leadership of Bill Belichick.
As a note, these draft grades take into account the player’s impact while in New England weighed against the other players who were available in the draft at that time, as well as the the strength of the draft as a whole that season. Below is the revisit and re-grading of the Bill Belichick draft that played a key role in adding two consecutive Super Bowl championships in New England: the 2004 NFL Draft.
The Patriots ended the 2003 season on a high note, as the team shook off a mind-numbing 31-0 loss to the recently released from New England Lawyer Milloy-led Buffalo Bills in week one to roar through the schedule and finish with 12 consecutive victories and a 14-2 regular season record one year after missing the playoffs. The season included a memorable victory over Denver on a Monday night game at Mile Hile featuring an intentional safety by the Patriots. The Patriots were pinned down at the one yard line and went three-and-out and intentionally to the safety to pin Denver back. The strategy paid-off as young quarterback Danny Kanell went three-and-out and gave the ball back to the Patriots with 2:15 on the clock. Tom Brady led the Patriots down the field and completed an 18-yard touchdown pass to young wide receiver David Givens with only 36 seconds remaining in the game.
There was also an epic defensive battle against the resurgent Dallas Cowboys under Bill Parcells on a cold Sunday night in November at Gillette Stadium. The Cowboy’s defense showed up, limiting the Patriots to 12 points and quarterback Tom Brady to a rare, sub-50% completion rate that night.; however, he did–as was customary in that offense–complete passes to 8 different receivers. New England’s defense showed up strong and shut out the Cowboy’s offense (one of the defense’s 3 shutouts that season and 2 additional games without allowing a touchdown), as cornerback Ty Law picked off two Quincy Carter passes and fellow cornerback Tyrone Poole added another pick. Dallas’s leading rusher, Troy Hambrick, was held to 41 yards on 16 attempts on the ground. The Patriots only scored once, a 2 yard plunge by running back Antowain Smith set-up by a 57 yard completion to David Givens on the previous play.
The Patriots headed into the 2004 draft with an additional 1st round pick and 2nd round pick courtesy of their previous trades into this draft year during the 2003 draft. New England had packaged their second 1st round pick (#19) in 2003 to Baltimore for their 2nd round pick in 2003 and Baltimore’s 1st round pick in 2004. The Patriots also had traded one of their 3rd round picks (#78) to Miami for their 2004 2nd round pick. That 2nd round pick was traded to Cincinnati for their disgruntled running back Corey Dillon, who allowed New England to replace aging and ineffective running back Antowain Smith with an all-pro talent on the cheap. Cincinnati drafted safety Madieu Williams with the 2nd round pick. Williams was a solid pick-up, but definitely it was a trade that New England would make every time, considering the next running back drafted after that spot was Mewelde Moore (Chris Perry, Kevin Jones, Greg Jones, Julius Jones, and Tatum Bell were drafted ahead of the pick that was traded for Dillon, along with running back Steven Jackson). In addition, the Patriots swung a deal prior to the 2003 season dealing one of their 4th round picks (#104) for nose tackle Ted Washington.
1st Round #21: Vince Wilfork, Defensive Tackle:
The Patriots essentially got their all-pro nose tackle Vince Wilfork from the Baltimore Ravens for Kyle Boller along with their picks that–after more dealing–brought in defensive back Eugene WIlson and defensive lineman Dan Klecko in 2003: That is the kind of deal that shapes franchises. Currently, Wilfork is manning the center of the Patriots’ defensive line while Baltimore had to invest in another 1st-round draft pick at quarterback after Boller cost them multiple opportunities with their championship defense. Wilfork stepped in to replace Ted Washington, and has been one the Patriots’ most consistent and productive defensive players.
Should Have Drafted: Buffalo took quarterback J.P. Losman at #22, one pick after Wilfork. Seattle struck out with Marcus Tubbs at #23. One could argue the Patriots should have taken running back Steven Jackson at #24 overall, but the choice of Wilfork has stood the test of time.
1st Round #32: Ben Watson, Tight End:
Bill Belichick had visions of the two tight-end offense in mind back in 2004 when he grabbed Ben Watson to pair with his other 1st round pick tight end, Daniel Graham, from 2002. Though this pairing never proved to be as effective as 2010 draft pick tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, Watson was a solid, if unspectacular player for six years in New England before moving on to Cleveland. Watson just never put all the athleticism and size together like Gronkowski, and his penchant for drops caused quarterback Tom Brady to look away from Big Ben at crunch time.
Should Have Drafted: The pick looks worse considering Arizona grabbed linebacker Karlos Dansby one pick later, and then the Giants snagged Boston College guard Chris Snee at #34 overall. In addition, Jacksonville got linebacker Daryl Smith at #39, and Indianapolis picked up safety Bob Sanders at #44. Of course, Detroit wasted the #30 pick on running back Kevin Jones that year, and San Francisco picked wide receiver Rashaun Woods one pick before Watson.
2nd Round #63: Marquise Hill, Defensive End:
Marquise Hill only played three seasons in New England. On May 28, 2007, Hill tragically passed away in a jet ski accident. Hill had stars Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, and former teammate Jarvis Green ahead of him on the depth chart, and likely would have been a starter elsewhere in the NFL as he was just starting to get more playing time prior to his untimely passing. It is hard to ascertain Hill’s impact had he not passed away, as the Patriots likely planned to use him as Green, Warren, and Seymour were replaced.
Should Have Drafted: Tennessee picked defensive tackle Randy Starks at #71, San Diego grabbed center Nick Hardwick at #66, and Arizona grabbed defensive tackle Darnell Dockett at #64, who all are very good players in the NFL. Another name jumping out was tight end Chris Cooley, who-before being derailed by injury–had a four year run as a better receiving option than Ben Watson.
3rd Round #95: Guss Scott, Defensive Back / 4th Round #113: Dexter Reid, Defensive Back:
These two defensive backs get lumped together due to their being the first of a long run of swings and misses by the Patriots in addressing their defensive backfield. Neither Scott nor Reid made any specific impact in New England, and both were out of the NFL by 2007.
Should Have Drafted: Three impact defensive linemen went off the board at #98 (Shaun Phillips-San Diego), #117 (Robert Geathers), and #126 (Jared Allen-Kansas City); in addition, defensive backs Nathan Vasher (#110-Chicago) and Will Allen (#111-Tampa) went off the board in the general area of these two picks.
4th Round #118: Cedric Cobbs, Running Back:
Cobbs contribution in New England was minimal. He played 3 games in 2004, rushed for 50 yards in 22 attempts, and other than a cup of coffee with Denver in 2006, was out of the NFL.
Should Have Drafted: San Diego got a decent running back at #154: Michael Turner.
5th Round #164: P.K. Sam, Wide Receiver:
The Patriots continued their later round washouts in this draft, as P.K. Sam played all of two games on special teams in New England in 2004.
Should Have Drafted: In the Patriots defense, after Michael Turner there were few impact players in this draft. Miami stole guard Rex Hadnot at #174, and Green Bay snagged defensive end Corey Williams, who had two good seasons in him at #179. At least the Patriots got two games out of Sam, that was two more than Oakland got out of pick #166 (Shawn Johnson-Defensive End), or Houston from pick #170 (Vontez Duff-Defensive Back), or Pittsburgh at #177 (Bo Lacy-Tackle), or finally the Jets at #178 (Marko Cavka-Tackle): All four never played a snap in the regular season.
7th Round #233: Christian Morton, Defensive back:
The Patriots gave up a 6th round pick (#197) to sign restricted free agent defensive end Rodney Bailey away from the Steelers, so they had only this pick which came to them from New Orleans as part of the Tebucky Jones trade in 2003. There remained slim pickings in the draft, and other than Green Bay hitting (another) late round home run with guard Scott Wells at #251. Beyond Wells, there was little value late in the draft that year.
Should Have Drafted: Besides Wells, maybe Giants running back Derrick Ward (#235), who at least was a decent special teams player and stepped up in 2008 to contribute a 1,000 yard season. Considering he played at Fresno State for FBB (Friend of Bill Belichick) Pat Hill, the Patriots should have had the inside track for drafting Ward.
1st round pick Vince Wilfork was a great value pick for New England. Getting a stalwart of the defense for ten years from a 1st round pick is a win. For example, Jacksonville wasted the #9 overall pick on wide receiver Reggie Williams. Tampa never got the production they expected from #15 overall pick Michael Clayton. Cleveland spent the #6 overall pick on tight end Kellen Winslow Jr, who pieced together two good seasons after missing almost two full season with injuries. Unfortunately, the rest of the Patriots’ picks came up short that year, which made them part of the trend, no the exception as this draft had numerous top 100 picks who never contributed in the NFL. Unfortunately in New England, these lean drafts began to become a disturbing trend, rather than a one-year aberration.
Overall Grade: C+