New England Patriots

Patriots Draft Rewind: The 5 Worst Draft Classes of the Belichick Era

Bill Belichick has as good a track record as any GM when it comes to the draft, but he hasn't been perfect

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Forget about the six quarterbacks taken before Tom Brady, see if you can name the six players the Patriots drafted before taking a flier on the quarterback from Michigan in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft.

Couldn't come up with Adrian Klemm, JR Redmond, Greg Randall, Dave Stachelski, Jeff Marriott or Antwan Harris? Don't worry, you aren't alone.

But that was the haul for Bill Belichick before landing Brady with the 199th pick in his first draft calling the shots in New England, a draft pick which, as we know, changed the course of history.

The Patriots rounded out their 2000 class with David Nugent, Casey Tisdale and Patrick Pass. Not exactly a murder's row.

It begs the question: does the presence of Tom Brady make the 2000 draft class a great one for the Patriots, or was it merely one great pick amid an otherwise barren wasteland?

Obviously, the Brady factor alone elevates Belichick's inaugural draft class into at least the middle of the pack, if not higher, of his 20 draft classes to date with the Patriots. But without a first-round pick (it was traded for Belichick, actually) and little to no value from the first player the team took in Klemm, just how high can it rise?

Remember, it's impossible to hit on every single draft pick you make, especially in later rounds. Belichick has as good a track record as anyone when it comes to his first round picks, but has been a bit more boom-or-bust in the second round. No different from any other general manager across the league.

In the cases when Belichick has missed on his top picks, that's generally set a tone for what was to come in later rounds.

N’Keal Harry has not had the sort of debut season that might be expected from a first-round NFL draft choice. The wide receiver from Arizona State, picked 32nd overall by the New England Patriots in the draft, was placed on injured reserve after the final cuts because of a lower-leg injury, was activated on Nov. 2, and has been biding his...

We'll tackle the best draft classes of the Belichick era on Wednesday, but today's exercise is about finding which draft classes are on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Among the factors considered: hit rate on first and second-round picks, years players spent in New England, and who the Patriots may have passed on at the same position of a given player.

Before we begin, one honorable mention to the bottom five: 2014. Dominique Easley, taken in the first round, 29th overall, is by far the worst first-round pick Belichick has made in his tenure. Jimmy Garoppolo (second round, 62nd overall) is going to provide all of his value for another team, while Bryan Stork (4-105) started his rookie season at center for the Super Bowl XLIX champions before retiring after his second season due to concussions. I'll argue, however, that New England's next pick, James White (4-130), has provided more than enough value -- and has plenty more to give -- to keep this group out of the bottom five.

And away we go...

5. 2015

In all honesty, a draft class like this might be among another team's top five of the century. While the Patriots decided only one of them was worth a second contract, defensive end Trey Flowers (4-101) and guard Shaq Mason (4-131) are the kind of players you build around. For bonus points, the draft pick used to select Flowers was acquired in the Logan Mankins trade the year prior.

Like many other Patriots' draft classes in the second half of this run, however, the team received far too little value from its premium picks in the first and second round. Defensive tackle Malcom Brown (1-32) was not a worthy replacement for Vince Wilfork, it turned out, and gone after his rookie deal expired, while safety Jordan Richards (2-64) is in the discussion for the worst second-round pick of the Belichick era.

Richards made only seven career starts in three seasons for the Patriots, who to be fair were loaded at safety when Richards arrived, but he did himself few favors when he did see game action. With Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon all on the roster, why reach for a safety that high in the first place?

Long snapper Joe Cardona (5-166) is nice and all, but couldn't the Patriots have just signed the former lacrosse player from Navy as an undrafted free agent? New England received nothing from defensive end Geneo Grissom (3-97), guard Tre' Jackson (4-111), linebacker Matthew Wells (6-178), tight end AJ Derby (6-202), cornerback Darryl Roberts (7-247) or linebacker Xzavier Dickson (7-253).

4. 2016

For the second time under Belichick, the Patriots were left without their own first round pick due to a cheating scandal in 2016. Unlike the previous instance, the team didn't own another first round pick, meaning they had to wait until the 60th overall pick to finally make a selection.

Their prize for waiting? Cornerback Cyrus Jones out of Alabama, who lasted just two seasons in New England, one of which was spent on injured reserve.

When he was on the field, Jones failed to impress on both defense and special teams, routinely getting burned in coverage and fumbling away several punt returns. Amazingly, Jones landed back with the Patriots after the Ravens signed him to their practice squad following final cuts out of training camp in 2018. The reunion was short-lived, as New England waived him again less than three weeks later.

The Patriots found at least one keeper from the 2016 draft in guard Joe Thuney (3-78), and wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell (4-112) will forever be remembered for his clutch performance in Super Bowl LI before knee injuries deprived him of the rest of his career.

Quarterback Jacoby Brissett (3-91) looks like he'll be a viable backup for years to come, as does offensive lineman Ted Karras (6-221), who filled in admirably at center in Foxboro in 2019. Even linebacker Elandon Roberts (6-214) carved out a niche at fullback for the undermanned Patriots. Defensive tackle Vincent Valentine (3-96), linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill (6-208) and wide receiver Devin Lucien (7-225) gave the team next to nothing.

3. 2006

How can a draft which produced the franchise's all-time leading scorer rank so low? Because the four players taken before kicker Stephen Gostkowski at No. 118 -- all skill position players -- flopped at a time when the Patriots were in desperate need of help on offense.

It's not that running back Laurence Maroney (1-21) was horrible, averaging 4.2 yards per carry during his four years in New England...he just wasn't that good, either, especially compared with backs taken after him like DeAngelo Williams (1-26) or Maurice Jones-Drew (2-60).

Wide receiver Chad Jackson, on the other hand? The Florida product did have three touchdown catches in his first five games, but totaled just 14 catches for 171 yards over three seasons with the Patriots before flaming out of the NFL entirely. Jackson went in the second round, 36th overall, ahead of receivers such as Greg Jennings (2-52) or Brandon Marshall (4-119).

Tight ends David Thomas (3-86) and Garrett Mills (4-106) were zeroes in Foxboro as well. Thomas went on to have a few good seasons with the Saints after three lackluster years with the Patriots, but Mills never took a snap in New England. The five players taken after Gostkowski contributed next to nothing for the Patriots as well in offensive tackle Ryan O'Callaghan (5-136), defensive end Jeremy Mincey (6-191), Dan Stevenson (6-205), defensive tackle Le Kevin Smith (6-206) and defensive back Willie Andrews (7-229).

2. 2007

There's a difference between an otherwise mediocre draft class producing Tom Brady, as was the case in 2000, and said mediocre draft class producing Brandon Meriweather as its lone redeeming quality, as was the case here.

Meriweather, drafted in the first round, 24th overall, did make two Pro Bowls during his time in New England. He failed to receive a second contract from the Patriots, however, who allowed him to leave in free agency following the 2010 season. Like Maroney the year before him, Meriweather wasn't an all-out bust, but he has to be one of the more underwhelming two-time Pro Bowlers of all-time.

Beyond Meriweather? Shield your eyes. The Patriots drafted eight more players, and only one of them would ever take a snap for the team: defensive back Mike Richardson (6-202), who appeared in 10 games in 2008.

Defensive tackle Kareem Brown (4-127), offensive tackle Clint Oldenburg (5-171), linebacker Justin Rogers (6-180), running back Justise Hairston (6-208), offensive tackle Corey Hilliard (6-209), linebacker Oscar Lua (7-211) and guard Mike Elgin (7-247) never saw the field for New England.

The Patriots traded their original second and fourth round picks in 2007 in separate deals for Wes Welker and Randy Moss, for what it's worth. Those deals worked out pretty well. But in terms of acquiring young talent, 2007 was about as bad as it gets for the Patriots. With the exception of one other year...

1. 2017

Similar to 2007, the Patriots used much of their draft capital in trading for veteran help. Their first round pick went to New Orleans for Brandin Cooks, while their second round pick went to Carolina for Kony Ealy (and a third round pick back).

Not exactly Moss and Welker.

When all of the wheeling and dealing was done, the Patriots had just four draft picks in 2017, none until the third round. New England used a pair of third rounders on defensive end Derek Rivers (83rd overall) and offensive tackle Antonio Garcia (85th), followed by a fourth-round pick on defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. (131st) and sixth-round pick on offensive tackle Conor McDermott (211th).

Wise is the only players who's given the Patriots a lick of anything, but after two promising seasons with 9.5 total sacks, he fell out of favor in 2019 due to a new defensive scheme. Whenever he did see the field, it seemed as though he was good for at least one momentum-killing penalty per game.

Rivers has spent two full seasons on injured reserve (2017, 2019) and appeared in just six games in 2018. That's beginning to feel like a lost cause. Still, it's six more games than Garcia or McDermott ever appeared in for the Patriots.

Taken one pick after Rivers? Wide receiver Chris Godwin by Tampa Bay, who'll get to catch passes from Tom Brady anyways, it turns out. And one pick after Garcia? Talented but troubled running back Kareem Hunt by Kansas City.

Every time you hear someone complain about the lack of young talent on the Patriots roster, look to 2017 as the biggest culprit. It's too soon to write off the 2018 or 2019 draft classes, and at least New England got something from the underwhelming classes before it. In 2017, the Patriots went all-in to keep the championship window open with Brady. One Super Bowl title later, Brady is gone and there's precious little in the pipeline behind him.

Bill Belichick and Co. can't afford another wasted draft class. If so, maybe it really was Brady holding everything together all these years.

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