Top three and bottom three draft deals in recent Patriots history

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Bill Belichick is the most prolific trader in NFL draft history. Trader Bill has made over 80 draft trades since taking over the Pats in 2000. Some of these trades have turned out very well, and some have gone a little sour.

What are the best and worst draft trades? Although the Pats made many shrewd draft trades in the early years of the Belichick reign, I am more interested in seeing what they have done lately, so I only considered trades starting with the 2016 Draft.  It’s a little too early to judge trades made during the 2022 and 2023 drafts, so I left those years off my list.

The Patriots have, at times, moved picks multiple times in one draft. When applicable, I followed the picks and grouped the trades into one overall “deal” to better assess what the Pats really got from these trades. Here are my top three and bottom three draft deals since 2016.

The Top Three

2020 – Kyle Dugger/Josh Uche/Dalton Keene

Received: 37--Kyle Dugger; 60--Josh Uche; 101--Dalton Keene.

Gave up: 23--Kenneth Murray (L.A. Chargers); 71--Justin Madubuike (Baltimore Ravens from L.A. Chargers); 98--Malik Harrison (Baltimore); 125--James Morgan (NY Jets from Chicago); 129--Cameron Clark (NY Jets from NE through Baltimore and NE).

The selections of Dugger, Uche, and Keene resulted from separate trades with the L.A. Chargers, the Baltimore Ravens, and the New York Jets. These trades are not a pure win for a couple of reasons: first, Keene did nothing during his time with the Pats; second, the Pats might have, but did not, take a chance on drafting 2022 NFL MVP runner-up Jalen Hurts at 37.

Had the Pats kept the 23rd pick besides Hurts, they could have selected wide receivers Brandon Aiyuk, Tee Higgins, or Michael Pittman. None of the players available around 71 would have benefited the Pats as much as Uche has.

The 101st pick was not a bad spot either—as an alternative to Dalton Keene, the Pats could have drafted defensive end Alex Highsmith, who went at 102 to Pittsburgh. With the 125th pick, the Pats might have nabbed wide receiver Gabriel Davis, who went at 128 to Buffalo.

Overall, with the selections of Dugger and Uche, the trades still worked out very well for the Pats.

2020--Mike Onwenu

Received: 182--Mike Onwenu.

Gave up: 212--Dezmon Patmon (Indianapolis Colts); 213--Jordan Glasgow (Indianapolis Colts).

I like this trade with the Indianapolis Colts because it is a straightforward swap of picks, unlike many of the Patriots' draft-day deals. The Pats identified a player they wanted at 182 and were willing to part with two Round 7 picks to get him. The deal worked out well, as Onwenu has been a valuable addition to the offensive line.

2018 --Ja’Whaun Bentley/Trent Brown

Received:143--Ja’Whaun Bentley; San Francisco offensive lineman Trent Brown.

Gave up: 95--Tarvarius Moore (San Francisco).

Ja’Whaun Bentley has been a stalwart linebacker for the Pats since he was drafted. Trent Brown only played one season with the Pats before signing with the then-Oakland Raiders but has since returned to the Pats.

The Bottom Three

2018--Duke Dawson

Received: 56--Duke Dawson.

Gave up: 63--Carlton Davis (Tampa Bay) and 117--Jordan Whitehead (Tampa Bay).

Duke Dawson never appeared in a game for New England before he was traded to the Denver Broncos in 2019.

Had they remained at 63, the Patriots would still have had some great options. They could, for example, have chosen All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner, selected at 70 by San Francisco; defensive end Sam Hubbard, picked at 77 by Cincinnati; or three-time Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews, nabbed at 86 by the Ravens.

In addition to a safetly like Whitehead, the Pats would have had some good tight end options at 117, such as Will Dissly, selected 120 by Seattle, or Dalton Schultz, chosen at 137 by Dallas.

2017--Derek Rivers/Kony Ealy/Antonio Garcia

Received: 83--Derek Rivers; 85--Antonio Garcia; and Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kony Ealy.

Gave up: 64--Taylor Moton (Carolina)/72--Tawan Taylor (Tennessee); 96--Kenny Golladay (Detroit); 124--Jalen Reeves-Maybin (Detroit); 200--Adam Bisnowaty (NY Giants from Indianapolis through NE and Tennessee).

The Pats moved down twice, first from 64 to 72, then 72 to 83, in deals with Carolina then Tennessee. They also traded up with Detrioit to get the 85th pick in exchange for the 96 and 124 picks (obtained earlier from Tennessee).

Koney Ealy was waived in August 2017 and never played a regular season game for the Patriots. Rivers played very little for the Patriots and was finally waived him in 2020. Antonio Garcia, a Troy University product like Jake Andrews from the 2024 draft, was released after one season on the non-football injury list.

These trades, while a fascinating series of moves, yielded nothing of lasting value for the Pats.  The Pats would have been better off staying put at 64, where they would have had the option of selecting outstanding players like running back Alvin Kamara, drafted at 67 by New Orleans, or All-Pro wide receiver Cooper Kupp, drafted at 69 by the L.A. Rams. Other options at 96 were defensive end Trey Hendrickson and running back James Conner.

2019--Joejuan Williams/Yodny Cajuste/Jarret Stidham

Received: 45--Joejuan Williams; 101--Yodny Cajuste; 133--Jarrett Stidham.

Gave up: 56-- Mercole Hardman (Kansas City from Los Angeles); 97--Bobby Evans (Los Angeles); 162--Cameron Smith (Minnesota from Los Angeles).

The selections of Williams, Cajuste, and Stidham were the result of two separate draft day trades with the Los Angeles Rams but are considered here as one deal because in the second trade the Pats got back one of the picks that they had sent to the Rams in the first deal (possibly only the Patriots could come up with something that complicated).

Joejuan Williams never made an impact at CB in four years with the Patriots and has now moved on to the Minnesota Vikings. Yodny Cajuste is the only bright spot in this deal and remains on the Pats as a backup lineman.

Jarrett Stidham may still have a stellar career ahead of him, but his 48 career pass attempts made no impact in his time with the Pats. Further, although Stidham was taken in Round 4, the Pats only got only a Round 6 2023 pick in exchange for Stidham and a Round 7 2023 pick when they traded him to the Las Vegas Raiders in May 2022.  

With the trade up to the 45th pick, the Pats could have significantly improved their team had they chosen better options, such as Pro Bowler receiver A.J. Brown or running back Miles Sanders. Had the Pats stayed at 56, they could have still opted for wide receivers D.K. Metcalf, Parris Campbell, or safety Taylor Rapp.

Can we learn anything from this review of the best and worst trades in recent Pats history? First, there is no particular advantage to any draft strategy, whether it’s trading up, trading down, or just staying put. Trading up or down has resulted in positive and negative outcomes for the Pats.

Second, when you trade up, you typically lose lower-round draft picks, so it’s vital to identify a player who is really worthy of that pick. If you don’t, as in the cases of Duke Dawson, Antonio Garcia, and Joejuan Williams, you can destroy much of the value of your draft.

Third, for unknown reasons, the Patriots had a particularly difficult time identifying good players in the draft years 2017 through 2019. Both trade-ups and trade-downs failed in those years. Those drafts still haunt the Pats today in their efforts to regain their prior Super Bowl form.