New England Patriots: Did they miss an opportunity to reload with the 2017 NFL Draft?

Feb 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick before Super Bowl LI against the Atlanta Falcons at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick before Super Bowl LI against the Atlanta Falcons at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

The New England Patriots made just four picks in the 2017 NFL Draft. Was this a mistake by the Patriots?

The New England Patriots went into the 2017 NFL Draft with just six picks and none in the first two rounds. By the end of day three on early Saturday evening the Patriots had wheeled-and-dealed their way to a grand total of just four draft picks.

This appeared to be a major tactical mistake by Bill Belichick and the Patriots: This season’s draft has been heralded as one of the deepest drafts in recent history.

MMQB’s Albert Breer titled his 2/10/17 article “2017 Draft Defined by Depth”. He included quotes from anonymous personnel executives stating:

"“It’s a very good draft,” added a top personnel executive for an NFC team. “If you’re in a position like Cleveland is with a lot of picks—and you still gotta pick the right guys—but it’s an excellent draft. Very deep across the board.”"

"“Depth-wise, it’s great,” said one AFC executive. “What I like about it is, if we do our job and have faith in our scouts, we can get starters into the fifth round.”"

Judy Battista at stated:

"“Team personnel evaluators have been saying for months that this class boasts a depth of talent that makes coaches and general managers salivate. Immediate starters will be found well into the middle rounds, they believe, and the group is particularly strong at defensive back, running back, edge rusher and tight end.”"

These were just a handful of the hundreds of articles quoting NFL talent evaluators gushing about the depth at so many different positions in the 2017 NFL Draft. The middle and end of the draft is where the Patriots have made use of finding inexpensive players to supplement their depth and resistance to injuries during the season.

Tom Brady (6th round), Julian Edelman (7th round), and James White (4th round) were just a handful of late round picks who made huge plays in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 51 to lead the Patriots to the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.

With a number of inexpensive young players available in the middle rounds of the draft, it seemed to be the type of year that Bill Belichick would load up on picks and fill the back end of the roster with an infusion of talent.

Instead, the Patriots were extremely picky and filled just two positions: defensive end/edge rusher and offensive tackle. Bill Belichick and the Patriots’ strategy focused on importing young veterans:

  • The Patriots sent the 32nd overall draft pick and their third round draft pick to New Orleans for a fourth round draft pick and wide receiver Brandin Cooks.
  • New England traded the 64th overall draft pick to the Carolina Panthers for their 72nd overall draft pick and defensive end Kony Ealy.
  • The Patriots shipped the 137th overall draft pick to the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for the 200th overall draft pick and tight end Dwayne Allen.
  • New England signed Buffalo Bills’ restricted free agent running back Mike Gillislee to a two year $6 million offer sheet which sent the 163rd overall draft pick to the BIlls when they decline to match the offer.
  • And finally on day three of the draft the Patriots sent the 183rd overall draft pick to the Kansas City Chiefs for tight end James O’Shaughnessy and the 216th overall draft pick.

If this were the talent-poor 2013 NFL Draft or the shallow 2009 NFL Draft such a strategy of limiting the number of draft picks would make sense.

In the 2013 NFL Draft the top of the first round was historically terrible: Eric FIsher, Luke Joeckel and Dion Jordan are hardly impact players. Barkevious Mingo is on his third team and Jonathan Cooper is hanging on by a thread. Dee Milliner was out of football last year and Chance Warmack, D.J. Hayden, and EJ Manuel are just a few of the duds of the first round (don’t get me started on Bjoern Werner).

New England traded out of the first round that season and picked up three solid starters on the defense in Jamie Collins, Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon. The more heralded players of that draft–skill position players Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce–were both washouts.

In 2009 Jason Smith, Tyson Jackson, Aaron Curry, Mark Sanchez, Andre Smith, and Darrius Heyward-Bey were the six non-impact players taken immediately after Matthew Stafford. That first round also included such “luminaries” as Aaron Maybin, Knowshon Moreno, Larry English, Josh Freeman, Perla Jerry, Donald Brown, and Beanie Wells.

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The Patriots swung and missed on a number of picks such as Ron Brace and Darius Butler in the second round in 2009. Brandon Tate and Tyrone McKenzie were both third-round non-factors. In fact, other than Patrick Chung (better on his second go-round in New England) and Sebastian Vollmer in the second round, the only impact player out of a dozen draft picks was a converted quarterback from Kent State named Julian Edelman.

With just 70 players on the roster after the draft, the Patriots had 20 open spots on the roster to get to the maximum of 90. While they may sign a veteran or two, this left New England with a ton of opportunities for undrafted free agents. Since the Patriots add an undrafted free agent or two to their final 53-man roster seemingly each season, they have no problem getting interested players to come to Foxboro knowing they have a fair shot of winning a job.

In the undrafted free agent feeding frenzy the Patriots added some intriguing players such as slot receiver Austin Carr from Northwestern, BYU linebacker Harvey Langi, offensive lineman Max Rick from Harvard, the Hollister twins, and safety Damarius Travis among others.

Next: 5 Reasons Why Pats Can Repeat as Champs

The Patriots need to hit on a few of their draft picks, these undrafted free agents, and those trades they made for Cooks, Ealy, Allen and the signing of Gillislee because these deep and talented draft picks that the Patriots missed out on could be disastrous for maintaining their depth and strong middle class of their roster.