This is the eighth installment of a multi-part review and grading of the previous drafts of the New England Patriots under coach and executive Bill Belichick which started with the grading of the 2013 draft (previous installments of the series are found here: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006). As the Patriots are now getting into their OTAs (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. Therefore, it is a great opportunity to take the time to look back to the previous drafts of the New England Patriots in the Bill Belichick era and re-grade them with a clearer understanding of the drafted players impact upon the team.
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 season of falling short in the playoffs: the 2007 NFL Draft.
The 2006 season ended with the Patriots falling short of the Super Bowl by the slightest of margins. Having overcome their deficiencies at the wide receiver position with the loss of starters David Givens (Free agency) and Deion Branch (traded after a contract dispute) and the ineffectiveness of their 2nd round pick, Chad Jackson, the Patriots brought in free agents Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney (in October) and traded for Doug Gabriel. Despite the turnover at the position, the Patriots ended the year 12-4, but were the number 4 seed and had to play in the wild card round to open the playoffs.
The Patriots opened the season against Buffalo with Tom Brady sacked and fumbling the ball away on the first play of the season. That was hardly the way the Patriots drew up the start of the season. The Patriots came back to win against Buffalo after trailing by 10 at the half, but the team was inconsistent through the first part of the season, losing to Denver at home in week 3, losing to the Colts and Jets in back-to-back weeks (week 9 and 10), and a bizarre shutout by a Miami squad that only won six games in week 14 which cost them a first round bye in the playoffs. Of course, the inconsistent Patriots squad also had a 4 game winning streak and two 3 game winning streaks. During those streaks they had dominant games such as crushing Cincinnati 38-13 in week 4, destroying the Vikings in prime time 31-7 in week 8, beating up on Brett Favre and the Packers in week 11 by winning 35-0 and blowing out the Texans 40-7 in week 15.
The Patriots went into the playoffs short-handed as starting safety Rodney Harrison, who missed most of 2005 with injuries, was lost for the playoffs in the final game of the 2006 season when he injured his knee against Tennessee. The Patriots defeated the wild card New York Jets (coached by former Patriots defensive coordinator Eric Mangini) in the first round 37-16, avenging an early season loss.
That loss, on a rainy and cold November day in which both teams turned the grass field into a muddy, dirty mess, the Jets pulled out a 17-14 win in week 10 highlighted by a fumble by wide receiver Doug Gabriel in the second quarter which put him in the doghouse. Gabriel was pulled from the game and only caught one more pass in New England before being released a month later. This was the last game on a grass field in Foxboro, MA as the decision was made to install Field Turf during the two week break. This game was notable as well due to the post-game handshake between Bill Belichick and Jets coach Eric Mangini which had every camera on it after Belichick’s limp attempt in the earlier matchup. Mangini grabbed Belichick’s arm and forced a handshake after the Jets grabbed the momentum in that game and ended up facing the Patriots in the playoffs.
The playoff game against Eric Mangini and the Jets was close up through the 4th quarter, however, before the Patriots salted the game away late. This was supposed to be the coronation of Man-Genious as the Next Big Thing and the end of the Patriot Reign of the AFC East. As history has shown, this was not to be. The next week they traveled San Diego and came back from three interceptions by Tom Brady to come back from an 8 point 4th quarter deficit on the road to win 24-21 and go to Indianapolis to take on the Colts.
The Patriots went into Indianapolis in the 2006 AFC Championship Game and jumped out to a 21-6 halftime lead. The Colts stormed back in the 2nd half to tie the game, and the Patriots and Colts traded blows through the 4th quarter. The Patriots took a 34-31 lead with less than 4 minutes to play, but after a stop of the Colts, the Patriots, despite veteran running back Corey Dillon and rookie running back Laurence Maroney leading the rush offense, they could not run out the clock and gave the ball back to the Colts with time on the clock. The Colts went 70 yards in 19 seconds and scored a touchdown to take the lead with a minute to play. Brady drove the Patriots down the field, but the season ended in disappointment as Colts cornerback Marlin Jackson picked off Brady with 17 seconds remaining in the game.
Heading into 2007, the Patriots needed to right the ship which was slowly taking on water. Step one: the draft.
1st Round #24: Brandon Meriweather, Safety
The Patriots held the 24th pick in the draft due to their trade of wide receiver Deion Branch to the Seahawks the prior year. With that pick, they grabbed who they thought would be their version of Ed Reed, the dynamic, hard-hitting, playmaking safety from the University of Miami and shining in Baltimore. Fellow Miami alum Brandon Meriweather was scooped up and gave the Patriots a few Pro Bowl appearances, although he was hardly a Pro Bowl caliber player. With safety Rodney Harrison nearing the end of his career and derailed by injuries the two previous seasons, the Patriots were lauded for their pick with an eye on a glaring need. Meriweather was not the star the Patriots expected, but he was a better pick than #1 overall pick quarterback JeMarcus Russell (Oakland), #4 overall pick defensive end Gaines Adams (Tampa Bay), #9 overall pick wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (Miami–drafted ahead of cornerback Darrelle Revis at #14), #16 overall pick defensive tackle Justin Harrell (Green Bay), #17 overall pick defensive end Jarvis Moss (Denver), and #22 overall pick quarterback Brady Quinn (Cleveland–one spot ahead of wide receiver Dwayne Bowe to Kansas City).
Should Have Drafted: The Patriots passed on #25 pick Jon Beason, who has been a solid linebacker for Carolina and Dallas defensive end Anthony Spencer at #26, both who were better fits in the defense long-term if the Patriots had not reached for Meriweather. The Patriots had lthe #28 overall pick as well, but that pick was traded to San Francisco, who grabbed solid left tackle Joe Staley who has been an anchor on their offensive line. It does not happen often, but the Patriots reached for a need and it came back and bit them by not sticking to their draft principles.
1st Round #28: Traded to San Francisco for 2008 1st Round Pick and 4th Round Pick:
The collective groan that rocked New England with the intensity of an earthquake was when it was announced that the Patriots traded a 1st round pick for a future 1st round pick yet again. Further, San Francisco drafted left tackle Joe Staley, who has been a two time Pro Bowl player That 2008 #1? Defensive captain and linebacker Jerod Mayo.
Should Have Drafted: Well, maybe Staley would have been a good pick-up to replaced tackle Nick Kazcur when injured, but this trade turned a late 1st round pick into a top-ten pick. A top ten pick that turned into defensive captain Jerod Mayo. That is shrewd maneuvering.
2nd Round #60: Traded to Miami with #238 (7th Round) for Wes Welker, Wide Receiver
Miami snagged center Samson Satele and defensive end Abraham Wright with the two picks they got for their restricted free agent punt returner who their division rivals were overly interested in. Satele is a decent interior lineman who started two years in Miami and was traded to Oakland in 2009 for a 6th round pick and then signed with Indianapolis last year.
Should Have Drafted: As far as wide receivers go, Baltimore drafted Jacoby Jones at #73, Green Bay grabbed James Jones at #78, and the best overall player drafted in that area was tackle Marshall Yanda by Baltimore at #86. That said, Wes Welker’s six years resulted in 5 years with over 100 receptions and over 1000 yards. No one was finding that kind of production at #60 in the draft too often.
3rd Round #91: Traded to Oakland for 2008 3rd round pick and #211 (7th round pick)
The Patriots kept pick #211 in this draft (see below) and traded their 2008 3rd round pick to move into the 2nd round in 2009, where they ended up with four 2nd round picks. This pick eventually was turned into defensive tackle Ron Brace–he of the vast unfulfilled potential–and safety/wide receiver/special teams captain Matthew Slater in the 6th round. Slater has been a Bill Belichick favorite, while Brace should have been called “The Human Optical Illusion”, as he was the biggest sized player (350 pounds) who could not be seen as he turned invisible when he stepped between the numbers. He was released last season. Slater turned out to be the best player out of this deal.
Should Have Drafted: The Raiders drafted Tackle Mario Henderson at #91. After losing his starting job he ran into trouble with a gun charge, and then was released after ballooning to almost 400 pounds. He went to camp with San Diego but was cut. Last information had him playing for the Colorado Ice of the Indoor Football League in 2012. At #91, the best available player would have been Dashon Goldson, the safety snapped up by San Francisco at #126.
4th Round #110: Traded to Oakland for Randy Moss, Wide Receiver
Defensive back John Bowie will be a trivia answer for a long time as the pick made by Oakland in exchange for mercurial wide receiver Randy Moss. Moss gave the Patriots exactly what they could have hoped for, three solid years of all-pro level production and a horrible flame-out and contentious exit. Bowie played five games in the NFL, and recorded exactly one tackle. His elite speed kept him on practice squads and getting invites to training camp, but he never caught on anywhere.
Should Have Drafted: Again, safety Dashon Goldson was available at #126, but he has proven be a better choice than Brandon Meriweather at #24 of the 1st round, but no one in this round (or outside of the first 14 picks of this draft) was matching Randy Moss’ production.
4th Round #127: Kareem Brown, Defensive End
The Patriots took advantage of a weak draft to take a mid-round flyer on a player with a 2nd round talent but no discernable work ethic. It did not pay off, but there were a lot of players picked in the 2007 draft who did little. The Jets scooped him up and tried to convert him to tight end but it did not work out. Brown recently returned to the Hurricanes as a graduate assistant working with the defensive ends.
Should Have Drafted: Tight end Scott Chandler went to Buffalo at #129. Maybe lump in Kevin Boss, the tight end picked by the New York Giants at #153, as potential picks, but this was getting to be the late rounds of a weak draft and picking players who would be trying to make the roster of a championship level team with limited opportunities.
5th Round #171: Clint Oldenburg, Tackle
Oldenburg was a big tackle who bounced between six NFL teams, the UFL and CFL, and interning for the Washington Nationals in strength and conditioning before he was hired by EA to work as a game producer for Madden 13. He was the pick that the Patriots received as compensation for free agent kicker Adam Vinatieri. Pick #165 went to Oakland for wide receiver Doug Gabriel, who was released during the season.
Should Have Drafted: Kickers Nick Folk and Mason Crosby went #178 and #194, not that the Patriots needed a kicker after drafting Stephen Gostkowski at #118 in 2006. Defensive back William Gay (Pittsburgh) went at #170, one pick ahead of Oldenburg, and tight end Brent Celek (Philadelphia) went at #162 ahead of him. Wide receiver Legedu Naanee (San Diego) at #172 was likely the best of the rest
6th Round #180: Justin Rogers, Linebacker // 6th Round #202: Mike Richardson, Defensive Back // 6th Round #208: Justice Hairston, Running Back // 6th Round #209: Corey Hilliard, Tackle // 7th Round #211: Oscar Lua, Linebacker // 7th Round #247: Mike Elgin, Guard
The Patriots were saddled with compensation picks they could not trade at #208, 209, and 247. Pick #180 came from Arizona for tackle Brandon Gorin. Oscar Lua at #211 came from Oakland in the 3rd down trade down. These picks were basically rolls of the dice at the end of the draft.
Rogers stuck with Dallas a few years as a special teams player.
Richardson played 10 games in 2007 in New England before being released and landing in Kansas City.
Hilliard played two years in Indianapolis and two years in Detroit as a back up.
Hairston, Lua, and Elgin never played in the NFL.
Should Have Drafted: The only players here that could have made the Patriots roster were running backs Jason Snellling (Atlanta) taken at #244 and Ahmad Bradshaw (New York Giants) take at #250. Also, undrafted free agent running back Pierre Thomas (New Orleans) was available.
This was a dreadful draft year. After Darrelle Revis going to the New York Jets at #14 overall, no teams were hitting home runs. The players contributing in this draft after then that were pro bowl players were specialists like #73 overall pick Jacoby Jones-kick returner, #137 overall pick Le’Ron McClain-blocking fullback, #178 overall pick Nick Folk-kicker. Some solid players came off the board after the first round, but overall this was a surprisingly weak draft. The Patriots made some solid moves trading picks when they had the chance. I think that the Patriots probably tried to trade more picks, but were hamstrung by untradeable compensatory picks and the fact that there were limited teams accumulating picks, especially late in the draft. It would have been nice to unearth a diamond in the rough in the late rounds, but there is a reason it is called hit or miss. They came out of the draft with a starting safety, two star wide receivers via trade, and they traded a late round pick for a future top ten pick. In this draft year, that was pretty good.
Overall Grade: A-