Revelations on Patriots' latest injury prognoses answer many questions

Things make more sense when all the facts are in
New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers
New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers / Cooper Neill/GettyImages

Time is reputed to be a healer. It also has a habit of being the best clarifier for things in football that don't seem to make sense when experienced. Player personnel moves seen in a vacuum are often inexplicable.

Many New England Patriots personnel decisions were perplexing over the past several years or longer. The team's poor drafting and free agency acquisitions were often and justifiably taken to task.

Bill Belichick's drafting was especially bizarre as conventional wisdom, aka "consensus," was thrown out the window many times. The drafting gaffes contributed significantly to Belichick's being broomed from the Foxborough scene, his six Super Bowl rings and his 20-year run with Tom Brady at the helm notwithstanding.

Two recent personnel decisions, one by Belichick in the 2023 offseason and one recently made in the draft by the new personnel head, Eliot Wolf, fell into that category of headscratchers. As noted, time has a way of revealing the truth, and we'll explore these two instances in a bit more detail.

Patriots' JuJu-Smith-Schuster's injury was always the issue

A key 2023 offseason free agency signing by Bill Belichick was JuJu Smith-Schuster, the former prolific receiver while with the Pittsburgh Steelers and a very good one in Kansas City. That signing was applauded here as a solid addition to a weak wide receiver unit. Smith-Schuster had an excellent 78 catches for 933 yards and three touchdowns at KC in 2022.

The signing looked great, but there was one caveat. Smith-Schuster had knee injury concerns at KC. Here's what wrote after he signed with New England,

"Smith-Schuster has been dealing with a knee injury since the Chiefs' postseason and New England signed him knowing it would be a process before he'd hit the field for them again. And there's plenty of time for Smith-Schuster to show what he can do considering there's still a full month or more before training camp begins for the Pats. However, it's interesting that minicamps have come and gone without an appearance on the field—or for that matter, any real update."

The gist of the issue here is what evaluations the Belichick-run Patriots personnel operation did to ensure they were making a sound investment. When you're shelling out a 3-year, $25.5M contract with $16M in guaranteed money to a player with an injury concern, you must be sure about the player's health situation. They weren't.

Recent revelations by the player indicated that the player was nowhere near being 100 percent healthy for 2023. quoted Smith-Schuster's revelation that he was far less healthy than that, "'Last year (in May) I was probably at like 60%. Right now, I’m like 100%'"

Time clarified why the player only performed to the tune of 20 catches for 260 yards and one TD in 2023. At 60 percent, you'll have lots of problems getting open in the National Football League. Regarding due diligence, the Patriots' staff failed miserably with Smith-Schuster.

An injury explains why a 2024 draft pick now makes more sense

The Patriots expended a valuable fourth-round pick in the 2024 draft on a guard, Layden Robinson, from Texas A&M. A fourth-round expenditure at guard is a bit high, but it's not outrageous for a solid player. Yet, this pick seemed questionable for another reason.

Guard is one position on offense where the Pats ostensibly have decent depth, at least in numbers. In 2023, the team expended serious draft capital on a fourth-round pick, Sidy Sow; a fourth-round pick, center/guard Jake Andrews; and a fifth-round guard, Atonio Mafi.

None distinguished himself in their rookie season, but at least numbers are available. Therefore, it was bewildering that the Patriots used a fourth-round pick on Robinson with other greater needs, like left tackle, apparent. This was especially true since, in 2022, the team ill-advisedly spent a first-round pick on a huge reach for a guard, Cole Strange.

Strange has been average, nothing more when he's not injured or benched. Yet, he's still a body where you have a bunch. So why Robinson, then? Another recent revelation indicates exactly why. Strange isn't expected back at the beginning of the season or maybe even until mid-season.

So there we have time once again to clarify a baffling situation. With Strange on the shelf, Eliot Wolf felt he had to use a relatively higher draft pick on another guard. This makes some sense but also raises a red flag in his evaluation of the other guards he was involved in drafting.

We'll see how all this plays out, but at least there is more clarity on these two situations.

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