New England Patriots

2021 NFL Draft: Revisiting Every WR Bill Belichick Has Selected Since 2000

How could one team that’s been so good in nearly every other aspect of its operation come up blank time and time again when drafting wide receivers?

Belichick's history of drafting WRs paints a troubling picture originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

A Super Bowl MVP, and the franchise’s one-time leader in postseason touchdown receptions. Those were the first two wide receivers ever drafted by Bill Belichick in New England: Deion Branch (second round, 65th overall) and David Givens (seventh round, 253rd), respectively, who were part of the Patriots' 2002 NFL Draft class coming off of Super Bowl XXXVI. 

It was simply a home run of a haul that equipped the emerging Tom Brady with a pair of young receivers he’d develop trust in during the biggest of moments from 2002 to 2005.

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Over the next 19 seasons, the Patriots have selected 15 more wide receivers at various stages of the draft. With the exception of two who came years later – one of whom isn’t really a wide receiver at all and one of whom played quarterback in college – Belichick and Co. have never found another receiver to have the impact of either Branch or Givens in New England. 

How could one team that’s been so good in nearly every other aspect of its operation come up blank time and time again when drafting wide receivers? 

With Branch and Givens in the fold, along with steady veterans in Troy Brown and David Patten, the position really shouldn’t have been that high on the list for the Patriots in 2003, but their troubling trend began when they reached for Bethel Johnson in the second round at No. 45 overall. 

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Johnson – and many subsequent picks at wide receiver – profiled as prototypical Raiders thanks to their blazing speed…and not much else. Johnson's 4.37-second 40-yard dash time was third-fastest at the 2003 NFL Scouting Combine. 

Johnson parlayed that speed into two kick returns for touchdowns over his first two seasons with the Patriots and little else before he was swapped out to the Saints in 2006. Still, one miss isn’t the end of the world, even if the next receiver off the board in 2003 was three-time Pro Bowler Anquan Boldin. Missing on P.K. Sam (fifth round, 164th overall) in 2004 was of little consequence as well. New England's selection of Chad Jackson (second round, 36th overall) in 2006, on the other hand, is when it became clear something was amiss. Michael Holley’s "War Room" details how scouts warned Belichick that Jackson “had a bad attitude, was a bad route runner, had excellent straight-line speed and was a ‘me’ guy.” Troy Brown noted in the book that once Jackson arrived at Gillette Stadium, “guys would try to pull him into meetings, and he’d be at his locker lying down.” Like Johnson, Jackson’s 40 time was off the charts – 4.35 seconds, second-best at the 2006 combine. After catching a touchdown pass in three of his first five appearances, however, Jackson solidified himself as New England’s biggest draft bust at any position to date in the Belichick era. He appeared in two games in 2007 and was released prior to the start of the 2008 season. Making matters even worse, the Patriots actually traded up for Jackson. One of the picks New England gave up for Jackson turned into receiver Greg Jennings, a two-time Pro Bowler who had five straight 900-yard seasons for the Packers. Brandon Marshall and Marques Colston are among other receivers who went later in the draft, well after Jackson. New England’s 2008 and 2009 drafts actually yielded three wide receivers who’d play at least a decade in the NFL -- but only one of them as an actual receiver, and even that took some time to sort out. In 2008, the Patriots drafted Matthew Slater in the fifth round at 153rd overall and though he was listed as a receiver, there was never any doubt where he’d make his mark in the NFL: in coverage on special teams as a gunner, where he’s built himself a long-shot Hall of Fame case.

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