New England Patriots compensatory draft picks: Bloody useless.

via upload.wikimedia.org NOT Kareem Ackbar.

Lately on the Pulpit, there's been some speculation and questions about compensatory draft picks.

For those unfamiliar with what compensatory draft picks are, I'll offer an uncomprehensive explanation. The NFL adds an extra 32 choices to the draft, above and beyond that of the 32 in each round. Those extra picks are awarded to teams that either lose more free agents than they gain, or to teams that lose better free agents than they gain. Basically, the higher the pay of the outgoing free agent, the higher the pick awarded by the NFL - from the 7th round right up until the 3rd. As their name suggests, they're meant to compensate for the loss of proven talent to free agency.

Anyway, back to the gist - will the Pats get any? What will the Pats do with them (if any are awarded)? 

My answer at this stage to the first question is:  I don't know, it depends who they lose to free agency versus who they sign from free agency (and that's in 4 weeks). So if Wilfork, Mankins, Bodden, etc walk and the Pats don't sign free agents to replace them, potentially yes.

My answer to the second is: Meh. It doesn't matter.

What? It doesn't matter? But they're a draft pick, Hoodie doesn't waste draft picks, right? Right? Well, actually... I'll explain after the jump. 

Clint Oldenburg. Justice Hairston. Corey Hillard. Mike Elgin. Dan Stevenson. Le Kevin Smith. Ryan Claridge. Andy Stokes. Hakim Ackbar. Leonard Myers. TJ Turner. David Nugent. Greg Robinson-Randall.

Not exactly household names, right? Le Kevin Smith stuck around the Pats for a season or two and was traded out ignominiously last year. Andy Stokes was famous for being a Mr Irrelevant. Anyone know the others? I'm sure SlotMachinePlayer could tell you that Hakim Ackbar isn't the Star Wars Admiral, but not much more than that. So what have they got in common? They're guys the Pats picked up with compensatory draft picks that didn't work out.

Fine. Some draftees wash out. So who actually made the team after being taken by the Pats with a compensatory pick? From the 2009 draft, compensatory draft picks Tyrone McKenzie, George Bussey and Myron Pryor are still with the Pats, but only Pryor has made any contribution on the field thus far. Going further back in time, the 2005 3rd round compensatory pick (100th overall) produced Nick Kaczur; in 2000 the Pats had a relative gold-mine and wangled out 6th round, 199th pick overall Tom Brady, and in the 7th round, with the 239th pick, they snagged Patrick Pass. That's it.

So, over the years that Hoodie has been drafting in New England, out of 19 compensatory draft choices, only 4 have actually made contributions of any significance on the field - Brady, Pass, Kaczur and Pryor. Four out of 19. Hardly stunning stuff, considering his usual ability to get draftees to contribute. It also puts a spin on the whole "Hoodie has had bad drafts in the last few years" - if you take out the compensatory draft picks, he really hasn't had that bad a run.

Take, say, the 2005 draft. Normal picks? Logan Mankins, Ellis Hobbs, James Sanders and Matt Cassel - a pretty good haul. Compensatory picks? Kaczur, Ryan Claridge and Andy Stokes. Ryan who? and a Mr Irrelevant.

What about 2006? Laurence Maroney, Chad Jackson, David Thomas, Garrett Mills, Stephen Gostkowski, Jeremy Mincey and Willie Andrews - say, a 50/50 success rate. The compensatory picks? Dan Stevenson and Le Kevin Smith - both now gone after almost zero on-the-field contributions in Pats uniforms.

2007? Normal picks - Brandon Meriweather, Kareem Brown, Justin Rodgers, Mike Richardson and Oscar Lua. Overall, pretty patchy, although Brown, Lua and Richardson were plagued with injuries. Compensatory picks? Four washouts - Clint Oldenberger, Justice Hairston, Corey Hilliard and Mike Elgin.

In those supposedly bad drafts, a large proportion of the washouts were those guys taken with compensatory draft picks - crucially, the draft picks that Belichick isn't allow to trade up or down. When Hoodie isn't allowed to move around the draft board to get players, he doesn't seem to have a great deal of success. Pass, Brady, Kaczur and Pryor from 19 picks? Ouch.

So why is there such a low success rate with Belichick's compensatory draft choices? After looking at the picks, I believe it's because Belichick doesn't use them like normal picks. Hoodie's modus operandi with normal draft choices is dancing around the draft board to target players he expects to contribute as role-players; with the fixed compensatory picks, Belichick seems to speculate on long-shots and guys with 'potential'. Let's consider the four guys he's had success with.

Tom Brady is obviously the golden child of Hoodie's compensatory pick bunch. But Brady could not have had a harder time of making the team out of training camp. When he was drafted, he was fourth on the depth chart. Drew Bledsoe was #1, and there were experienced backups in Michael Bishop and John Freisz ; Brady followed these two. In fact, when Drew Bledsoe played badly in 2000 there was a "start Michael Bishop" campaign amongst Pats fans  - that's how out-of-the-blue Tom Brady's promotion and success was.

Surely it seemed like the Pats were set at QB - they had a veteran starter in Bledsoe, a gifted backup in Bishop, and a veteran backup player in Freisz. Yet the Pats specifically targeted the QB position with the compensatory pick - according to Michael Holley in Patriot Reign, the Pats said they only considered Brady and Tim Rattay for selection with the 199th. Both Brady and Rattay had previously been projected to drop as low as Unrestricted Free Agency, too, so the 199th pick was a bit of a stretch (amazingly, given subsequent events).

This all suggests two things: a) that the Pats were specifically targeting a QB (as opposed to the usual company line of "best player available"), and b) since they had 3 pretty good QBs on the roster, they didn't really expect Brady to make it. Brady was selected solely as a project player, a guy with potential, a "maybe he'll work out" guy; not as a "we'll take this guy because we actually expect him to contribute on the field" pick. Brady's eventual success couldn't have really been predicted at draft time - he was a flyer, picked for the "what if" value.

That 2000 draft year also churned out Patrick Pass, and, like Brady, he also seemed to have no natural role on the roster. Pass was seventh on the RB depth chart (which already had two FBs - his future role), and was bumped onto the practice squad after training camp. Two weeks into the season, Pass was signed onto the roster and served as a kick returner, part-time running back, and occasional receiver. He even played a little as special teams gunner. In other words, he was initially an athletically gifted roster-filler, and barely in consideration as a genuine RB at all - consider him an early Matt Slater prototype; but seemingly with the potential to bulk up and find a 'real' role on the team.

Compared to the other players taken with conditional draft picks, Nick Kaczur was taken relatively high - a 3rd rounder - and only had to beat out a journeyman T/G in Victor Leyva and a undrafted free agent tackle in Jeff Roehl to make the team. His chances of sticking around were bumped up considerably when he filled in ably for an injured Matt Light in all but 3 games of the season. Interestingly, however, Kaczur was initially projected as a Guard - just as fellow rookie (and first-round pick) Logan Mankins was. Kaczur's selection could be seen hedging the bets in regards to Mankins, as a backup/competition guy in case Mankins was a bust.

Finally, Myron Pryor. Pryor had an uphill battle to even make the roster - he was competing for the backup NT position with incumbent first-string backup DT Mike Wright; incumbent second-string backup DT Le Kevin Smith; 2nd round pick Ron Brace (who the Pats had moved up to get by trading three draft picks to the Raiders, a significant investment); and 7th round pick Darryl Richard, who scored the highest Wonderlic score out of all defensive linemen. Like Brady, Pryor was swamped with competition -  two seasoned veterans, a physically gifted draft pick the Pats had already invested in heavily, and the smartest rookie DT around. And like Kaczur, Pryor could be seen as a safeguard pick for Ron Brace - a lower round guy drafted in the same position as the high-round rookie.

So where does that leave us for the 2010 draft? I suggest this - any position could be targeted with a conditional pick. However, I do think there are three clear patterns (albeit 'loose' patterns - no guarantees on accuracy!). The first is that the Pats often use a low-round compensatory draft pick on the same position they use a high-round pick on; the 'plan B' of drafting. For a Ron Brace or Logan Mankins there's quite often a Myron Pryor or Nick Kaczur. Secondly, there's a clear preference for O and D linemen with compensatory picks (although that applies to Belichick's drafting in general). Thirdly, Belichick seems to occasionally draft guys to provide competition for incumbent vets, irrespective of how set they are in the position - Brady was the young blood in a pretty solid QB stable, and worked his way in; Pass similar; and Pryor was a young guy going up against vets for the backup DT role.

Outside of those three vague patterns, all bets are off. Any position is fair game - although that also means I wouldn't rate the chances of any conditional guys actually making the team. They're pretty much set up to fail, and unless something inexplicable happens, they're usually a roster casualty. But when that inexplicable thing does happen, you get a Tom Brady.
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