New England Patriots: Not enough credit for being bad at drafting

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 10: Josh Gordon #12 of the Cleveland Browns celebrates a touchdown in the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 10, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 10: Josh Gordon #12 of the Cleveland Browns celebrates a touchdown in the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 10, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

The New England Patriots’ trade for wide receiver Josh Gordon is another reminder of how badly this team has drafted in recent years.

The New England Patriots’ trade for Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is yet another reminder that over the past five years, the New England Patriots have not only been ineffective in the NFL Draft, but they have also been downright terrible.

Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are the two biggest reasons the Patriots don’t get enough credit for drafting poorly, even though Brady was, ironically, drafted by the Patriots nearly 20 years ago.

Despite the fact that Brady is a homegrown product for New England, the team’s drafting woes get continually overlooked because they are winning football games. No matter how poorly the Patriots have drafted, that fact has not changed. This team finds ways to win because of Belichick and Brady, but just how bad has New England’s drafting been?

Excluding the 2018 draft class that has proven nothing so far, let’s take a look at some key figures that represent New England’s desperate need to start drafting well, because, at some point, Brady won’t be there to pick up the slack.

Offensively, the Patriots have six starters that were drafted by the team. Five of those players are among the top 11 on the team in terms of snaps played through two games this season.

They are Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, James White, Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason, and Marcus Cannon.

The Patriots have not really prioritized offense with their high picks in the NFL Draft (specifically first rounders) until 2018 when they used two top selections on Isaiah Wynn (offensive line) and Sony Michel (running back).

Since 2010, Patriots first or second-round picks used on the offensive side of the ball are Rob Gronkowski, Nate Solder, Aaron Dobson, and Jimmy Garoppolo.

Of those players, only Dobson looks like a bad pick in hindsight, but the Patriots have been unable to supplement that lack of investment with other homegrown talents to get where they are now in 2018. And of those selections, only Gronkowski remains a member of the team.

In all fairness, the Patriots have been at least average when it comes to drafting on the offensive side of the football since 2010, even if only one of their highest draft picks is still on the roster. They have drafted players in that timeframe like James White, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley, and linemen like Nate Soler and Shaq Mason who have made a big difference on the roster and ultimately on Super Bowl teams.

The specific timeframe the Patriots have been really bad is over the past five years, and the specific places they draft poorly are in the earliest rounds.

From 2012-2017, the Patriots have drafted a total of two players who are currently in their starting lineup within the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, despite having 10 selections in those rounds over that timeframe.

The Patriots are not unlike many NFL teams in this regard. Drafting successfully in the NFL is not as easy as it looks or sounds, even if you have a number of high picks to work with or manipulate the draft board like the Patriots often do.

This is a team that builds its team in a very unconventional way, and while they don’t draft very well at the top, they develop talent pretty well and have some ‘lifers’ like Brady, Gronkowski, Devin McCourty, Dont’a Hightower, Julian Edelman, and others that have stabilized this roster for over a decade.

The fact that New England has struggled to draft impact players early on in the NFL Draft is perhaps just the football gods’ way of keeping things fair for other teams. The Patriots do a very good job of coaching their players and even when their roster looks poor on paper as it has the past couple of seasons, their scheme and coaching overcome a lack of elite talent.

That’s why when a player like Josh Gordon is added into the mix, everyone in the sports media world freaks out, because when you get the perfect mix of elite level talent, scheme, coaching, and motivation, you get a situation as we saw more than 10 years ago now with the Patriots and Randy Moss, who looked like a has-been after his time in Oakland.

The Patriots don’t draft wide receivers well. Their top players at that position (with Edelman on suspension) are Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson, Phillip Dorsett, and now Gordon. None of those players was drafted by New England.

They also do not seem to have a good eye for cornerbacks early on in the NFL Draft. They used a second-round pick on Duke Dawson this year, so the jury is still out on him. They took Cyrus Jones out of Alabama with their top pick (second round) in 2016 and he is no longer with the team.

The team also traded away one of the best edge rushers it has ever had in Chandler Jones, who has been excellent since getting shipped off to Arizona. The Patriots have had one player reach double-digit sacks (Trey Flowers, 2016) since Jones was traded.

Next. Time for the Cardinals to turn to Josh Rosen. dark

Again, this is not to say the Patriots’ lack of great drafting ability has cost them in terms of wins and losses. This is a team that is basically penciled in for the AFC Championship every single year, and more often than not, they are in the Super Bowl because of Brady and Belichick.

They deserve credit for drafting some great pieces throughout the years, but their inability to draft well over the past five years is undeniable and it’s only a matter of time before the level some of these guys are playing at is affected significantly by the departure of Brady.