We’ve long been told that Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots have lost their drafting mojo in recent years — but does a series of wide receiver struggles really mean that one of the game’s legends just can’t draft anymore?
Yes, we’ve seen plenty of wideouts come and go. Yes, N’Keal Harry is a pain point. But if Belichick can get a defensive steal, a starting lineman, and a valuable running back any time he wants to over the course of several drafts, does his first-round pick really even matter?
OK, yes. It does. But Belichick’s resumé of draft steals hasn’t really gotten less impressive as he’s aged, and that counts nearly as much.
Ahead of a pivotal season of potential rebirth for the Pats, it feels fitting to select an underrated player from every year of the past decade to contextualize just how well Belichick does in the depths of the draft.
It’s far too soon for us to assess anything about the 2021 Draft — so let’s just call them all steals and move on with our day. We barely know what to make of 2020, either, but based on just one season’s worth of data … it feels like we have enough information to declare one player to be a steal already, even if the ’20 season is the only above-average production he ever gives the Patriots.
Some years pack more competition than others, but we think we’ve got it straightened out. Having at least one clear “steal” to pinpoint every year, though, speaks volumes.
The best Patriots draft steal of every year of the past decade.
2020 Patriots Draft Steal: Michael Onwenu
The Patriots have already gotten 16 games of top-notch rookie production on the OL from their 2020 sixth-round pick, Michael Onwenu out of Michigan. By any metric, Onwenu ranked as one of the best offensive rookies in the game, and was selected during the portion of the draft usually reserved for special-teams standouts and backup punters.
Even if he never appears in an NFL game again, this is already one of the best draft steals of the decade. Luckily, we have every indication we’ll be seeing more of him next year and beyond.
According to PFF, Onwenu played 927 snaps in his freshman campaign in the league and allowed three sacks while committing a single penalty. This graphic may age poorly as the rookie wideouts in last year’s class gain thousands of yards for the next decade, but as of now, we’re going to go ahead and soak it in. It’s objectively hilarious how much Onwenu lapped Justin Jefferson of the Vikings by entering Week 6.
We “don’t have enough data” to extrapolate this out for Onwenu’s whole career, but we don’t need to do that. The Patriots have already maximized this selection.