New England Patriots: Team's biggest draft gaffe in the last decade

The Patriots botched the first round of the 2018 draft
Jul 27, 2023; Owings Mills, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) passes the ball
Jul 27, 2023; Owings Mills, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) passes the ball / Brent Skeen-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots aren't a team known for their astute drafting. Even owner Robert Kraft has taken the personnel operation to task for lousy drafting. Interspersed among a few excellent picks, are total misses in the top three rounds and massive mistakes in the all-important first round.

Teams can't afford to miss often in the first round. First-round picks are potential five-year players who play on comparatively short money. They are a hedge against having to spend big in free agency, a difficult proposition in the salary cap age.

Missing on a first or second-round pick hurts but missing on two in the same season is a prescription for losing. The draft and free agency are the two most influential cogs in off-season team-building augmented by trades and signing undrafted free agents. You mess them up at your peril. With this in mind, let's take a look at the 2018 first-round draft disaster and examine how it has plagued the Patriots since.

The New England Patriots rolled snake eyes twice in the 2018 first-round

New England Patriots fans were reminded lately of the 2018 massive draft gaffe-fest when Sony Michel announced his retirement from the NFL. Michel retired recently after five years in the NFL. He played on two Super Bowl winners with the Patriots and Rams and scored the only touchdown in the Patriots' Super Bowl win over the Rams in 2019.

The Patriots had two first-round picks in 2018 and they selected Isaiah Wynn with pick No. 23 and Sony Michel at No. 31. Wynn had an up-and-down career in New England plagued with injuries and he was not re-signed this offseason leaving for Miami. Michel as noted has retired.

Missing one first-round pick is a disaster. Missing two is a calamity. No NFL team can afford to throw away two top picks in positions ostensibly of need. In the Patriots' case, the need for an offensive tackle was huge (and ironically still is), making the Wynn mistake the more deleterious one.

Michel never reached the heights anticipated. Get it right and it's a potential five-year salary cap bonanza. In the case of Wynn and Michel the team flubbed both. In addition, the opportunity cost of players passed on can plague the team as it did in the case of these blunders.

The New England Patriots missed out on a superstar

The New England Patriots paid huge opportunity costs with the available players not selected who were passed up. The most glaring goof was passing on one of the NFL's best quarterbacks, the inimitable Lamar Jackson. The Pats not only passed on the electrifying Jackson at pick 23 but did again at 31. Jackson was available with either.

With what now appears in hindsight to be the intended jettisoning of Tom Brady after the 2019 season, the team had every reason to utilize a 2018 top pick on Jackson. A two-year apprenticeship under Brady and he'd have been ready to go in 2020. Belichick must have had it in mind to let Brady walk after 2018. Yet, the majordomo still neglected to draft his successor in 2018.

Jackson would have been a plug-and-play replacement for Brady if, as it seems, the Patriots were foolishly planning to let him walk. In addition, they also passed on running back Nick Chubb, a teammate of Michel's at Georgia. Chubb has been a far better NFL back than the now-retired Michel.

Meanwhile, the Patriots now pin their hopes on third-year quarterback Mac Jones, who's in a pivotal year having excelled in 2021 and flopped in 2022. As Jones goes, so do the Patriots. With a porous offensive line, a dual-threat QB like Jackson would be huge.

The Patriots botched the 2018 first round and it's still plaguing the team as it prepares for 2023. Some observers (hand-raised) hoped and expected that the team would take Jackson with at least the 31st pick, but those hopes were dashed. Predictably, the ever-astute Baltimore Ravens snapped up Jackson with the 32nd pick, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The moral of the story is when you have an opportunity staring you in the face and you are looking ahead a year or two, make the right selections, especially with your first-round draft picks. If you don't, you'll pay the price for years to come. The New England Patriots are paying that price since they neglected to draft Lamar Jackson in 2018.