Welcome to the seventh installment of a multi-part review and grading of the previous drafts of the New England Patriots under coach and uber-executive Bill Belichick. As the Patriots are between their “voluntary” organized team activities along with their other NFL counterparts, this period of preparing for the 2013 season prior to the official training camp in July is often the only slow time in the NFL calendar when the non-stop NFL news slows to a trickle. Thus, it is an ideal time to look back to the previous drafts of the New England Patriots while under the leadership of Bill Belichick and re-grade them with the perspective of some time having passed.
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. In addition, the position of the player taken in the draft is compared to the team’s need at that time, and it also takes into consideration how the player contributes to the team’s winning, whatever their role ended up being in New England. Below is the revisit and re-grading of the Bill Belichick draft that followed the second consecutive Super Bowl championship in New England: the 2006 NFL Draft.
The Patriots ended the 2005 season with something that had never happened in New England with coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady: they lost a playoff game. The Patriots went into the playoffs without the benefit of a first round bye and had to play in the wild card round. They defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars on clear, cold January evening 28-3 behind linebacker Willie McGinest’s 4.5 sacks and quarterback Tom Brady’s 3 touchdown passes as a close game in the first half turned into a typical efficient New England playoff win.
The next week, the Patriots went into Mile High Stadium with their unprecedented 10-0 post-season record under Belichick and Brady. However, the Patriots five turnovers resulted in 24 points for Denver. The game was close in the third quarter with New England trailing 10-6 and Brady driving the offense to the Denver 5 yard line. Brady’s pass was intercepted by Denver cornerback Champ Bailey in the end zone and returned it 101 yards to the one yard line where tight end Benjamin Watson hustled down field to catch him and knock the ball out of the end zone for a touchback and would have given the ball back to New England at the 20 yard line. The referees called it out at the one yard line, Denver’s ball, and after a one yard plunge it was 17-6 and effectively game over when Denver stopped New England and usually reliable kicker Adam Vinatieri missed a 42 yard field goal–his first post-season miss of his career.
With the Patriots out of the playoffs, the Steelers, who had upset Indianapolis the day after New England lost to Denver, went into Mile High the next week and blew out Denver in the AFC Championship game. Against the number one seed out of the NFC, the Seattle Seahawks, in Super Bowl XL the Steelers rolled to an improbable victory behind running backs Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis and MVP Hines Ward, winning in spite of rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s 22.6 quarterback rating in the big game.
The Patriots defense was aging, but the offense was the weaker unit at the end of 2005, as running back Corey Dillon was in his 30s and young wide receivers Deion Branch and David Givens had reached the end of their rookie contracts without any resolution toward long-term deals. Branch was dealt to Seattle for their 2007 1st round pick, and David Givens left to sign with Tennessee in free agency in March 2006, signing a 5 year $24 million contract. Adding to the off-season of change, defensive end Willie McGinest was released in March 2006, soon signing with the Cleveland Browns and former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. However, the big off-season news was free agent kicker Adam Vinatieri signing at the end of March with the Indianapolis Colts. The Patriots had chosen not to put the franchise tag on Vinatieri after doing so the year prior, and despite his receiving interest from Green Bay, Vinatieri shocked the Patriots by signing with their bitter rival, the Colts.
Vinatieri, McGinest, Givens, and Branch all gone in one month. Add in the loss of veteran cornerbacks Tyrone Poole and Duane Starks, tight end Christian Fauria and key reserve tackle Tom Ashworth, and the Patriots off-season looked catastrophic as their only significant signing that off-season was wide receiver Reche Caldwell. How to improve their team with all these losses? New England Patriots fans turned their attention to the 2006 draft:
1st Round #21: Laurence Maroney, Running Back:
The Patriots had not chosen a first round running back under Bill Belichick, so of course the team, with a 32 year old Corey Dillon, drafted running back Laurence Maroney. Maroney added a boost to the offense in 2006 splitting time with Dillon and adding punch to the return game. In 2007, he was at his peak and carried New England on his back to the Super Bowl in the playoffs with 244 yards and two touchdowns in the two playoff games. Maroney may never have been the star running back that went with his lofty draft position, but he did provide solid play for a few years (despite missing most of 2008 with a shoulder injury). Traded in 2010 to Denver, Maroney (and a 6th round pick) netted a 4th round pick in the 2011 draft in return.
Should Have Drafted: Two other running backs went in the first round, DeAngelo Williams at #27 to Carolina and Joseph Addai at #30 to the Colts. Addai never quite reached the production of his predecessor, just like Maroney. Williams had some production, but never made the leap to star. The best player chosen at that point of the draft may have been Jets center Nick Mangold, but with Dan Koppen starting at a high level at minimum pay, the Patriots were not giving guaranteed first round money to a position of strength. Four linebackers went off the board in the 30s (Mathias Kiwanuka #32, DeMeco Ryans #33, D’Qwell Jackson #34, and Rocky McIntosh #35), any of whom could have helped rejuvenate an aging Patriots linebacker corps. The best choice may have been defensive back Johnathan Joseph, who went to Cincinnati at #24. With the release of Ty Law the year prior, and dropping Tyrone Poole and Duane Starks that off-season, the Patriots had Asante Samuel’s pending contract issue hanging over them and the inconsistent young Ellis Hobbs. An infusion of youth at cornerback with a talent like Joseph would have been an immediate impact, especially considering how the 2006 and 2007 seasons ended with breakdowns in the secondary.
2nd Round #36: Chad Jackson, Wide Receiver:
The 1st round of the 2006 draft was full of value on the defensive line and linebacker, as the offensive skill players drafted early were most notable for not meeting expectations (running back Reggie Bush #2, Maroney, Addai, and Williams; quarterbacks Vince Young #3, Matt Leinart #10, and Jay Cutler #11; tight end Vernon Davis #6; and wide receiver Santonio Holmes #25). Added to that list was Patriots 2nd round pick, #36 overall, wide receiver Chad Jackson. The Patriots traded up in the draft from #52 overall in the second round to #36 by packaging their 3rd round pick (#75) with the #52 to move up and grab the second rated wide receiver in the draft. With wide receivers David Givens gone in free agency and Deion Branch traded for a future #1 pick, the Patriots receiving corps was down to veteran Troy Brown and whoever else was brought in. To replace Branch, the Patriots moved up to grab their wide receiver of the future. Unfortunately, they dropped the ball.
Should Have Drafted: With the #52 pick from the Patriots, the Green Bay Packers selected wide receiver Greg Jennings. Jennings currently has 425 receptions in his career, with over 6,500 yards and more than 50 touchdowns. Jackson put up career numbers of 14 receptions, 171 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Also taken after Jackson in the second and third round were solid players like offensive linemen Winston Justice (#39), Deuce Lutui (#41), Marcus McNeill (#50), Andrew Whitworth (#55) and Jeremy Trueblood (#59); tight ends Anthony Fasano (#53), Tony Scheffler (#61), and Leonard Pope (#72); defensive backs Danieal Manning (#42), Roman Harper (#43), Cedric Griffin (#48), Bernard Pollard (#54), Devin Hester (#57), Tim Jennings (#62), and Darryl Tapp (#63). Also, the best running back of the draft went #60 overall, Maurice Jones-Drew. This was a deep second and third round of the draft and the Patriots packaged two valuable picks to reach for a position of need and paid the price. The failure at wide receiver in the 2006 season was an issue all season and likely cost the team a trip to the Super Bowl. The team subsequently had to trade four draft picks in the 2007 draft to address the situation at the position. This was a failure of epic proportions.
3rd Round #86: David Thomas, Tight End:
Having traded their #75 overall pick to trade up for wide receiver Chad Jackson, the Patriots used their #86 overall pick on tight end David Thomas. Having let popular tight end Christian Fauria walk after the 2005 season, the Patriots needed depth behind solid but unspectacular 1st round tight ends Ben Watson and Daniel Graham. The Patriots drafted Texas Longhorn tight end David Thomas, and received 21 receptions over 3 seasons before trading him to New Orleans for 7th round pick. Thomas hit performance goals after being traded to the Saints that upgraded the pick to a 6th round pick. That 6th round pick was traded with this season’s 1st round pick to the Broncos for a 4th round pick in 2011. That 4th round pick was then traded during the 2010 season to Seattle for wide receiver Deion Branch, the receiver the Patriots desperately were trying to replace in this draft.
Should Have Drafted: Houston drafted tight end Owen Daniels as the 1st pick of the 4th round at #98 overall. Daniels has, to date, put up more than three times the production of Thomas.
4th Round #106: Garrett Mills, Fullback/Tight End:
For all the pundits who praised the Patriots following the draft for their “double-dip” strategy of drafting multiple players at the same position, remember this draft and the David Thomas/Garrett Mills tight end combo. Mills was initially listed as a fullback when drafted, but always showed up on the Patriots depth chart as a tight end. As little production the Patriots got from 3rd round pick Thomas at tight end, he was a star in comparison to Mills. Mills lasted only one season in New England and by his second round in New England in 2011 (where he lasted a week in training camp before being cut), Mills had career numbers of 9 receptions for 110 yards. He had no playing time in New England in the regular season in 2006, being inactive the first nine games and then on injured reserve before being waived in training camp in 2007. Back-to-back tight ends with minimal impact created a void at the position for years to come
Should Have Drafted: The best player available was the pick two after New England, offensive lineman Jahri Evans who went to New Orleans at #108, who is tied with fellow 4th round pick–wide receiver Brandon Marshall (#119)–with 4 Pro Bowl appearances (along with 1st round picks center Nick Mangold (#30) of the Jets and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (#12) of Baltimore). Other players coming off the board in that area were wide receiver Jason Avant (#109), linebacker Stephen Tulloch (#116), and running back Leon Washington (#117).
4th Round #118: Stephen Gostkowski, Kicker:
With the shocking exodus of star kicker Adam Vinatieri in free agency, the Patriots spent their second 4th round pick on kicker Stephen Gostkowski. While hardly the clutch kicker Vinatieri was in New England (even Vinatieri in Indianapolis was not the Vinatieri of his peak in New England), Gostkowski has been solid and dependable in New England, which with the swirling winds of Gillette Stadium in the winter is commendable. Certainly, it was a pick borne of desperation, but in the end it has been a solid pick.
Should Have Drafted: The next pick in the draft was wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Also available at the end of the 4th round were defensive ends Elvis Dumerviol (#126) and Ray Edwards (#127), defensive tackles Domata Peko (#123), Barry Cofield (#124), and pro bowler Kyle Williams (#134). Add in solid guards Willie Colon (#131) and Rob Sims (#128), and there was a lot of talent available at the time the Patriots took a specialist.
5th Round #136: Ryan O’Callaghan, Tackle:
O’Callaghan was a top of the 5th round pick who had a few solid seasons in New England. As a rookie, O’Callaghan looked like a steal initially, as he was thrust into the starting lineup due to injuries to starter Nick Kaczur. He missed the entire 2008 season due to a shoulder injury and was waived in 2009 after training camp. He started 12 games that year for Kansas City who had scooped him up, and then was with them in 2010. He was released in 2011 and out of football.
Should Have Drafted: The Patriots liked guard Quinn Ojinnaka (#139) enough to trade for him, but the best players available at that time were future Patriots defensive end Mark Anderson (#159), linebacker Omar Gaither (#168), and tight end Delanie Walker (#175)
6th Round #191: Jeremy Mincey, Defensive End:
Mincey has gone on to have a solid NFL career, but unfortunately for the Patriots it was with Jacksonville who claimed him after he was released by New England and San Francisco. After two seasons on the bench, and a season lost to injured reserve, Mincey stepped in as a starter in 2010 and showed pass rush skill by compiling 5 sacks. In 2011 that number was up to 8 before dropping down last year, his first year of a new 4 year deal with Jacksonville. Mincey was a proverbial late bloomer whose perseverance allowed him to stick in the NFL despite playing only 9 games (no starts) in his first four seasons.
Should Have Drafted: Defensive tackle Kedrick Golson (#196) has been a solid contributor and Baltimore grabbed solid punter Sam Koch at #203. Tackle Charlie Johnson, a starter at guard and tackle with Indianapolis and Miami went off the board at #199.
6th Round #205: Dan Stevenson, Guard:
Stevenson never played in New England or in the NFL.
Should Have Drafted: See Below
6th Round #206: LeKevin Smith, Defensive Tackle:
Le Kevin smith, while not a starter, stuck around in New England for three years as a depth player at defensive tackle. His only sack in the NFL came when he went to Denver in 2009 and starter two games. He played one game in 2010 and has been out of the NFL. At such a “hit-or-miss” point of the draft, any production out of a player drafted in the 200s is a winning pick
Should Have Drafted: For all the problems the Patriots had drafting and developing defensive backs, two very good secondary players went off the board after Smith and Stevenson: Antoine Bethea to Indianapolis at #207 and all-pro cornerback Cortland Finnegan was a steal going to Tennessee at #215. In addition, solid special teamer and future Patriots back-up cornerback Derrick Martin went to Baltimore at #208 and Kansas City grabbed solid back-up safety and future Patriots free agent signee Jarrad Page at #228.
7th Round #229: Willie Andrews, Defensive Back:
Andrews stuck in New England playing mainly on special teams in 2006 and 2007. His highlights including leading the team with 15 special teams tackles in 2006 and returning a kickoff for a touchdown against Miami in 2007. Andrews punched his ticket out of New England (and the NFL) when he was arrested two days after the Patriots loss against the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII in Lowell, MA with marijuana in the car and operating an unregistered vehicle. He topped that with another arrest just weeks before training camp opened for assault with a deadly weapon and unlawful possession of a firearm after allegedly pointing the gun at his girlfriend’s head during a domestic incident in Mansfield, MA. He was released the next day and his promising NFL career was over. Two solid years of special teams play is not a bad pick for the end of the 7th round
Should Have Drafted: Almost everyone in the NFL missed on the #252 pick of the draft, wide receiver Marques Colston. New Orleans got the steal of the draft, as Colston put up his first of six (and counting) out of seven 1,000 yard seasons for the Saints in his rookie year.
The Patriots got some decent value out of their five late round picks, getting some solid play by tackle Ryan O’Callaghan, defensive tackle LeKevin Smith, and special teamer Willie Andrews. Running back Laurence Maroney had a few good years and a great run in the 2007 post-season. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski remains a very good kicker and contributor to the Patriots success. Unfortunately, 2nd round pick wide receiver Chad Jackson was a colossal failure and tight end David Thomas and Garrett Mills were wasted picks. There was an opportunity to add key pieces for the next generation of Super Bowl champions in New England, but the top picks of the draft did not turn out as anticipated, and the Patriots had to upgrade on the offense through trades and free agency.
Overall Grade: C-