As the NFL is heading full steam into the 2010 NFL Draft I thought I would take a look back at the past drafts of the New England Patriots, which are commonly accepted to be below-par. I must say I didn't think they were as bad as I've come to conclude.
Too early to tell of course, but...
Chung (2nd) - could be good but 2009 didn't meet expectations of a high 2nd round pick
Brace (2nd) - 2009 was not good for him, still lots of time
Butler (2nd) - very encouraging, starting corner material
Vollmer (2nd) - extremely encouraging, probable starting LT for years to come
Tate (3rd) - injuries, IR
McKenzie (3rd) - IR
Ohrnberger (4th) - made the team, unknown at this point
Bussey (5th) - IR
Ingram (6th) - beat out longsnapper competition in camp, set for years
Pryor (6th) - pleasant surprise, already contributing
Edelman (7th) - big surprise, long term replacement for Welker, if not earlier
Richard (7th) - practice squad
Hoyer (UFA) - beat out competition in camp, could prove to be a solid backup at QB
This could (and it's still a "could" at this moment) become an excellent draft (a solid B+ at this point) but Brace and Chung need to improve, while there are several complete unknowns in the middle rounds. Edelman and Pryor were very nice finds.
Hits: Mayo (1st)
Busts: O'Connell (3rd)
Jury's out: Wheatley (2nd) (almost a bust, could get cut in camp) & Crable (3rd) (could also be cut, injury problems)
Others: Wilhite (4th) (could be a decent slot corner) & Slater (good on special teams)
Cut: Ruud (6th)
UFA: Guyton (great find, ideal high level backup and has performed well above expectation), Green-Ellis (very good production) & Wendell
Verdict: This class is hanging on by a thread to be average and is currently being saved by the UFAs. Wheatley and Crable need to get on the field in 2010 C-
Hits: Meriweather (1st) (just about!), Trading 4th round pick for Randy Moss, Trading 2nd & 7th for Welker
Busts: Draft class from 4th round down
Cut: Brown (4th), Oldenburg (5th), Rogers (6th), Richardson (6th), Hairston (6th), Hilliard (6th), Lua (7th), Elgin (7th)
Verdict: Meriweather is the entire draft class. Not a single other player taken is still with the team and nearly all of them were gone within a year. The trades vastly exceeded value for the picks, but concerned known commodities C+
Hits: Gostkowski (4th)
Busts: Maroney (1st) (production nowhere near draft status), Jackson (2nd), Thomas (3rd) (gets traded for 7th)
Others: Smith (6th) (traded for 5th & 7th), Andrews 7th (cut for off field reasons)
Cut: Mills (4th), O'Callaghan (5th), Mincey (6th), Stevenson (6th)
Awful, awful draft. The best value of the draft goes to David Thomas who surprised many around the league in 2009, mostly those in the Patriots' front office as he'd been "ditched" to New Orleans D-
The last good or very good draft was 2005 which contained Logan Mankins, Ellis Hobbs, Nick Kazcur, James Sanders and Matt Cassel. 2006 was a complete wipeout and 2008 was poor. 2007 would be nowhere without the trades for Moss and Welker, but that has nothing to do with evaluating college prospects.
Essentially, the past four years have been a level below average with only 3 Pro Bowl calibre starters (one of whom is a kicker and another has tackling issues) and four or five exciting prospects. Probability would tell you it's more than possible (especially when you're talking about something as wild and variable as college evaluation/pro projection) that after some very good drafts at the beginning of the decade, there were bound to be a couple of bad apples and that that isn't necessarily a reflection on Bill Belichick's drafting skills (one plus is the team continually caches future draft picks) or the organization's ability to assess college players.
However, there's no getting away from it that recent drafts have been poor and this has contributed to the Patriots moving down a notch in 2009 in terms of being a Super Bowl contender.