New England Patriots tackle Matt Light. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
This is the second installment of a multi-part review and grading of the previous drafts of the New England Patriots in the Bill Belichick era. With limited breaking news about football and the Patriots in particular until training camp kicks off in July, this is an ideal time to look back and re-grade the previous drafts of the modern New England Patriots. As a note, these draft grades take into account both the player’s impact in New England, weighted against the other players available at the time and the strength of the draft year as a whole. Below is the revisit and re-grading of Bill Belichick’s second draft in charge of the war room in Foxboro, MA for the 2001 NFL Draft.
The Patriots completed Bill Belichick’s first season in charge of the New England in 2000 with a 5-11 record as the team worked to clear out the dregs of the former Coach Pete Carroll and former General Manager Bobby Grier team and integrate the quality defensive players remaining into the former defensive scheme that was in place when Bill Parcells was coaching in New England and under Bill Belichick as assistant head coach in 1996 led to a Super Bowl trip; meanwhile, the offense was being retooled as franchise quarterback Drew Bledsoe signed a long-term extension with the team.
The Patriots headed into the 2001 draft already down their 4th (#101 overall) and 7th (#206 overall) round draft picks as the additional compensation that went to the New York Jets for the rights to sign head coach and executive Bill Belichick. This draft introduced the Patriots fan base to the Bill Belichick Draft Shuffle as “Trader Bill” traded up, down, and out. With their #39 pick in the 2nd round, they traded it for #5 and #112 to the Steelers, then moved from #50 to #48 with their 6th round pick (#173). Then they sent their 3rd round pick (#69) to Minnesota for another 3rd (#86) and a 4th (#119). Also, they sent their original 4th (#112) and a 5th (#139) to the Chargers to move up to #96 in the 4th. That was just the middle rounds, as there was plenty of wheeling and dealing later in the draft.
1st Round #6: Richard Seymour, Defensive End:
Seymour arrived in New England and was the linchpin of the defensive line throughout the Super Bowl run by the Patriots. An obvious favorite of Belichick early in his career, Seymour was stout against the run, had some pass rush skills, and was deployed up and down the defensive line. After a falling out personally with Belichick and professionally (the big money contract for the defensive line was allocated to nose tackle Vince Wilfork),, Seymour was shipped to Oakland where he failed to replicate his success in New England and is currently still on the free agent market after Oakland let him walk when his hefty contract expired. In New England in the early 2000s, however, he was arguably their most valuable defensive player (cornerback Ty Law may have some votes) and the rock in the middle of the defensive line who allowed their linebackers to have space to make big plays. This draft year had busts in the first round like wide receivers David Terrell (#8), Koren Robinson (#9), Rod Gardner (#15), Santana Moss (#16), and Freddie Mitchell (#25); tackle Kenyatta Walker (#14); defensive backs Adam Archuleta (#20), Will Allen (#22), Jamar Fletcher (#25), Derrick Gibson (#28); and especially defensive end Jamal Reynolds (#10); so this draft was important for the Patriots to pick the right player for the team..
Should have drafted: Future Patriot defensive end Andre Carter went one pick after Seymour, but in a re-draft the option would be a big body in the middle like defensive tackle Marcus Stroud (#13) or Casey Hampton (#19). The sixth receiver taken in the first round was the best, as Reggie Wayne (#30) has had a great career in Indianapolis. All good picks, but Seymour was the perfect player at the perfect time.
2nd Round #48: Matt Light, Offensive Tackle:
Matt Light was a rock at left tackle for New England for ten years, and for a second round pick, that is great value. Arizona took tackle Leonard Davis at #2 overall, and it is impossible to fathom that the Patriots would have traded Light straight up for Davis at any time in their careers. Light was a steal in the 2nd round, as a cornerstone left tackle is hard to find, and this draft was a weak year and was short on impact players. Grabbing Light turned out to be a great deal for New England.
Should have drafted: Hard to argue against Light, but Carolina snagged wide receiver Steve Smith at #74 overall in the 3rd round. Current Patriot free agent signing, safety Adrian Wilson, also went #64 overall in the 3rd round.
3rd Round #86: Brock Williams, Defensive Back :
Again, this draft was not deep. By this point of the draft, the impact players were gone, and no team was drafting any difference makers. That said, as a 3rd round pick, Williams was a total wash-out, only getting into 12 NFL games in his short career.
Should have drafted: The Dolphins snagged Morlon Greenwood at #88 in the 3rd round, who at least was a serviceable NFL player, which is what all teams are looking for once the draft gets to this stage.
4th Round #96: Kenyatta Jones, Tackle:
Another non-impact player, having played only 21 NFL games and out of the league after 2004, the choice of Kenyatta Jones looks worse each year with Atlanta grabbing guard Roberto Garza three picks later at #99 overall. Garza, who is still contributing in Chicago–and stealing and wearing quarterback Jay Cutler’s jersey in an NFL merchandise TV commercial–after switching to center. Of course, other higher-profile (but limited positive impact) players like linebacker Monty Beisel (#107), quarterback Chris Weinke (#106) and quarterback Sage Rosenfels were drafted around this time along with total wash-outs like linebacker Brandon Spoon (#110), running back George Layne (#108) and the other Gramatica, Bill Gramatica (#98).
Should have drafted: The Colts snagged tackle Ryan Diem at #118, who would have been a better option than Jones, for sure.
4th Round #119: Jabari Holloway, Tight End:
After striking out with Notre Dame alum Brock Williams in the third round, the Patriots went back to the Fighting Irish for their second 4th round pick. Unfortunately, the result was similar as Holloway contributed only 15 receptions in the NFL (all for the expansion Houston Texans) washing out of the league by the time the Patriots notched their 3rd Super Bowl in 4 years. Holloway never played in a regular season game in New England.
Should have drafted: The best player they did not draft in this spot was probably center Russ Hochstein (#151 overall) who ended up in New England anyway. Brandon Manumaleuna was a decent blocking tight end going at #129. This part of the draft was pretty slim pickings. A lot of non-impact players were being picked at the bottom of the draft in 2001.
5th Round #163: Hakim Akbar, Linebacker:
Akbar was the last pick of the 5th round, and played 10 games in the NFL and as out of the league by the end of training camp in 2003.
Should have drafted: Defensive end Ellis Wyms was taken by Tampa at #183 and he and his 19 career sacks make him the best player taken in that area.
6th Round #180: Arthur Love, Tight End:
Love never played for the Patriots, or in a regular season game.
Should have drafted: Green Bay tight end David Martin was a decent blocker and special teams player for a while in the league. He went at #198.
6th Round #200: Leonard Myers, Defensive Back:
Myers arrived in New England as the last pick of the 6th round out of “the U” (U of Miami, FL) and was originally hyped as a steal. He started one game in the NFL, playing 17 total and by 2004 was on the outside looking in.
Should have drafted: Wide receiver T.J. Housmandzadeh went to Cincinnati at #204 and had a decent run of years.
Grade: C –
7th Round # 215: Owen Pochman, Kicker:
Pochman gets credit for contributing just by coming into camp and pushing kicker Adam Vinatieri. If the pushing of Vinatieri resulted in his extra effort and helped in his being ready to kick the game winning field goals in the post-season, maybe this grade should be higher.
Should have drafted: Renaldo Hill, a defensive back taken by Arizona at #202, carved out a decent career starting at cornerback and switching to safety.
7th Round # 239: T.J. Turner, Linebacker
Turner did not really do much in New England and did not last the season on the roster.
Should have drafted: One of the best players to come out of the draft in 2001 was guard Stephen Neal who was signed by the Patriots as an undrafted free agent. Neal was a mainstay on the offensive line for the 2004 season and through his retirement following the 2010 season. The college wrestling star was a vital cog for the Patriots and an important part of their success.
Two impact bowl players in the trenches with the first two picks in a weak draft is a good draft, no matter what swings and misses went on later in the draft. Those two picks of Seymour and Light more than make up for the weak players picked, especially since no other team was having any success in the last few rounds. It wasn’t so much the Patriots missed in the last few rounds, but instead that there was no one any better to pick. The middle rounds could have been a missed opportunity, as cheap depth players would have been welcome in 2005 and 2006 when these non-impact players started to hurt the team. Signing undrafted free agent Stephen Neal helped over time, but, overall, the two hits early made up for the misses down the line.
Overall Draft Grade: B