Patriots' first-round picks since 2014 are key reasons for their decline

You need to hit on your first-round picks, the Patriots haven't.
Buffalo Bills v New England Patriots
Buffalo Bills v New England Patriots / Jim Rogash/GettyImages

In the National Football League, you are what you draft. The annual NFL Draft is every team's opportunity to restock with young talent at a reasonable cost. Those who draft well have a better chance to win. Those who don't won't. (Note: There is a huge caveat: If you stumble upon or select a franchise quarterback, he'll make up for loads of draft miscues.)

The prime assets in any draft are the first-round picks. Finds can happen anywhere, but it's in the first that you're expected to land instant starters who will fulfill expectations. If you do regularly, you should be well-situated (along with astute additional picks in the succeeding three rounds) to field a contending team.

The story of the New England Patriots first-round drafting validates much of what was postulated above. First, they luckily did have the draft find of all time in 2000, when they selected Tom Brady in the sixth round, no less, thanks to the astute observations of terrific Asst. Coach, the late Dick Rehbein.

Brady was the archetypal golden draftee who made up for a long list of failures by then-GM Bill Belichick. He did that for two decades in Foxborough. It's instructive to see just how poorly the Patriots drafted to see the extent of Brady's ability to compensate for that host of awful first-round picks.

2014 to 2019, first-round draft mistakes abound

From 2014 to 2018, the Patriots' first-round picks, five in total, were primarily flops. Those picks were defensive tackle Dominique Easley in 2014, DT Malcolm Brown in 2015, offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn, and running back Sony Michel in 2018.

The best of the bunch was Brown, an average DT who played four years in New England and barely moved the needle. The rest were essentially flops, and the opportunity cost of taking those two players in 2018 was colossal. Easley was drafted at No. 29 in 2014 with a bad knee. He never did much of anything.

Isaiah Wynn was a more undersized left tackle in college, but a good one. He was selected with Pick No. 18 in 2018. But his size at about 6"2" tall and 310 pounds was small, even for an NFL center or guard, not to mention any tackle. Injuries and the lack of length cost Wynn and the Patriots. He was injured often, and when he played, he was just OK, nothing more. He was moved to right tackle and then to guard without much-accompanying success there, either.

The Patriots also took running back Sony Michel from Georgia at pick No. 31 in 2018. Michel was just another back who scored the only touchdown in the 2018 Super Bowl. Other than that, there wasn't much. Two flops in the first round in 2018, but that wasn't the worst of it.

Even casual draft observers (hand raised here) were almost screaming for the Pats to draft a certain quarterback with one of those picks. They obtusely didn't. It was very costly. The aforementioned opportunity cost was the player not selected, the brilliant Lamar Jackson of NFL MVP fame. He was available with either pick. The Pats didn't take him, and the rest, as they say, is history. That one non-move very likely cost Bill Belichick his job.

First-round picks from from 2019-2024, better but not much

From 2019 to 2014, the Patriots had four first-round picks. In 2019, it was wide receiver from Arizona, N'Keal Harry. A lot was expected of the big receiver, but little eventuated. He was a complete bust. In his three years in Foxborough, he caught only 57 passes for 598 yards and four touchdowns before he was summarily dismissed.

In 2021, there was quarterback Mac Jones. After a solid rookie season, everything went downhill for Jones, another major draft flop by Belichick. His value on the trade market this offseason plummeted, and he was traded for a paltry sixth-round pick.

In 2022, after a rather astute trade-down, Belichick continued "reaching" for players in the draft, i.e., taking them higher than they should be. He selected guard Cole Strange from the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga at pick No. 29.

Drafting a guard anywhere in the first round is an inadvisable gamble. But reaching for a guard projected to be a third-round pick or so in the first was abominable. Strange when he does play and isn't benched, is just another interior O-lineman.

The anomaly was a pick in 2023, a good one for a change at pick N. 14. Pouncing on a talented cornerback who had dropped in the draft, the Patriots selected Christian Gonzalez of Oregon, who was projected as a top 2 corner. No reaching there.

Gonzalez was an instant starter and, until an untimely injury ended his season after only four games, looked every bit the part of a top first-round pick. In those four games, he notched 17 tackles, three passes defensed, one sack, and one interception. Hopefully, he'll bounce back in season number two.

Even the Gonzalez pick couldn't save Belichick's job, however. Too many poor first-round picks (not to mention a bevy of second—and third-round plus duds) were Bill's undoing. The thought here has been that Bill the GM was Bill the Head Coach's nemesis. It's hard to argue that.

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