It's really easy to say something is not good. It’s almost become a default response for things we don’t like or disagree with. And when that term is applied to the New England Patriots, oftentimes, it’s about their record at drafting wide receivers.
Fans can recall the names of the busts almost instantaneously. We’ll shake our heads over the players selected, thinking of the much better receivers New England passed on.
This maligning of the Patriots’ WR draft record and piling on has been going on for years. Some of the criticism is warranted, but sometimes it goes too far.
The New England Patriots have made mistakes when drafting receivers, but overall their record isn’t that bad
Don’t get caught up in all the pretty toys other teams have. There have been a lot of teams with elite receivers that don’t win anything. Don’t forget when the Patriots had Randy Moss and Wes Welker, they didn’t capture a Lombardi.
Games aren’t won with highlights. Finding the right players for the system will determine a team’s success. In that regard, head coach Bill Belichick did that better than any coach during his tenure with the Patriots. And he did it with less attention paid to wide receivers. Look at Belichick’s draft selections by position:
Patriots Players Drafted
Quarterbacks - 13
Running Backs - 15
Wide Receivers - 21
Tight Ends - 14
Special Teams - 8
Offensive Line - 42
Defensive Line - 31
Linebackers - 29
Defensive Backs - 41
Total - 214
Over 24 drafts, Belichick selected just 21 receivers. It’s not much, especially when compared to offensive line or any defensive position.
But no one says the Patriots suck at drafting at those positions. Well it helps that Belichick takes a lot of chances at those positions. To find a Shaq Mason or Ja’Whaun Bentley, New England had to go through Tre Jackson and Ryan Claridge.
New England’s receiver drafting record is often compared to the Pittsburgh Steelers. But we don’t think about the number of receivers that Pittsburgh missed on. People will bring up Plaxico Burress and Antonio Brown, but don’t mention Sammie Coates or Limas Sweed.
The primary difference between the New England Patriots and the Steelers is Pittsburgh selects receivers higher. Below is the Patriots receivers drafted by round:
Wide Receivers Drafted
Deion Branch, Bethel Johnson, Chad Jackson, Aaron Dobson, Tyquan Thornton
Brandon Tate, Taylor Price
Josh Boyce, Malcolm Mitchell
P.K. Sam, Matthew Slater
Braxton Berrios, Kayshone Boutte, Demario Douglas
David Givens, Julian Edelman, Jeremy Ebert, Jeremy Gallon, Devin Lucien, Tre Nixon
Out of 21 receivers, only eight were selected in the first three rounds. Over the same time period, the Steelers selected 14 within the first three rounds. Nearly a third of them were busts for Pittsburgh.
An expected counter argument would be, “Yeah, but Belichick only hit on Deion Branch.” One out of eight is atrocious, but that’s not accurate.
Aaron Dobson had a great rookie season with 37 receptions for 519 yards and four scores. If he was able to build on the first year, Dobson would have had a great career. But myriad leg injuries ultimately led to Dobson’s retirement after just three seasons.
Brandon Tate lasted just two years with the Patriots before being waived. Does that make him a bust? Because he went on to the Cincinnati Bengals and had three straight 1,000-all-purpose yards seasons.
Why New England waived Tate to begin with made no sense. He just gained 1,057 yards on kick returns with two returned for touchdowns.
Looking deeper into the draft, there are some selections the Patriots don’t get credit for. Malcolm Mitchell would had been loved for a long time in New England, if not for chronic knee problems. Want to fault the Patriots for spending a fourth round pick on a draft prospect with a medical red flag? Go ahead. Just don’t forget Rob Gronkowski and his bad back from Arizona.
Matthew Slater has one career reception for 46 yards. That makes him a bust as a receiver, right? But don’t count the 10 Pro Bowl selections for special teams.
Was Braxton Berrios a bust? As a selection, no. The mistake was cutting Berrios in favor of Gunner Olszewski, an undrafted corner-turned receiver. The former has put together a good career as a depth receiver and returner.
And Julian Edelman wasn’t the only productive seventh-round receiver. David Givens doesn’t get enough props as a starting receiver for two Super Bowl championships.
Just because they don’t become perennial Pro Bowlers with five straight 1,200-yard seasons doesn’t mean a draft pick sucks. Nor should one’s success after the Patriots gave up on him prematurely be discredited. And injuries happen. You can’t blame the Patriots for that, though it seems some people do.
One person who disagrees with the narrative is ESPN NFL Draft senior analyst, Mel Kiper Jr. While he acknowledges the Patriots’ struggles, Kiper Jr. believes New England isn’t alone.
The Patriots won’t get a pass on N’Keal Harry, Bethel Johnson or Chad Jackson. But New England hasn’t been abysmal at drafting receivers.
Obviously, there is room for improvement. It starts with spending more selections on receivers in the first three rounds, despite the past results. And overall the Patriots should draft more receivers. Eight times Belichick completely passed on the position in the draft.
Belichick selected eight receivers that should had been productive for the Patriots. That number could go higher depending on Tyquan Thornton, Kayshon Boutte and Demario Douglas.
But to say the New England Patriots suck at draft receivers is simplistic. It’s not as bad as people make it seem.