New England Patriots Drafted Players Development: Defensive Line

For every Tom Brady, there's a Ryan Claridge. The New England Patriots have been known throughout the league for their year in and year out success in running the draft since 2001. However, I want to see if the people directly responsible for the drafted players' growth- the positional coaches- really do have an effect upon how successful a player will be in the NFL.

For the longest time, our defensive line was the strongest part of our defense. Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren are all players who could be perennial Pro Bowlers if the 3-4 line promoted the statistics of the defensive linemen. When we traded Seymour this past off-season, there was a big hole in our defensive line which prevented our average linebackers from making above average plays. Was it the Front Office's fault for not having a defensive end in the waiting? Or was it the coach's fault for not developing a player to be ready?

D-Line Coach – Randy Melvin (01)

2001, 1st - Richard Seymour DE (2001-08)

Stats: Current Starting DE for the OaklandRaiders.            

Seymour gave the Patriots almost a decade of Pro Bowl service and, in the end, was shipped to Oakland for a first round pick- which is fantastic value. However, trading him was a detriment clear to all viewers as the Patriots were unable to create any real pressure against opposing quarterbacks. Seymour was developed into one of the greatest defensive players of the decade.

See the rest of the decade's drafted players' developments after the jump!

D-Line Coach – Romeo Crennel (02-03)

2002, 4thJarvis Green DE (2002-2009)

Stats: Current Starting DE for the Denver Broncos.

Green was recently picked up by the Broncos this off-season. He was a fantastic back-up defensive end, but lacked the size to be a consistent starter. However, he was productive enough over his time with the Patriots to more than warrant a 4th round draft pick. Green never had the size to become a 3-4 DE and was drafted for a different defense (the 4-3). That said, he was still able to transform from a 4-3 DT to a serviceable, albeit undersized, 3-4 DE, which is a testament to the coaching staff.

 

2003, 1st – Ty Warren DE (2003-)

Stats: Current Starting DE for the New England Patriots.

Warren has been one of the quiet cornerstones of the defense. He goes on the field, does his job and does his job very well. He won't be a vocal leader in the locker room, but leaves everything on the field. 2003 was the first year the Patriots went all 3-4 and Warren was one of the first pieces to be groomed specifically for the part. He has lived up to his 1st round draft selection.

 

2003, 4thDan Klecko DE (2003-05)

Stats: Current third-string DT for the Atlanta Falcons

Klecko was primarily used on special teams and with players like Warren, Green and Seymour in front of him on the depth chart, he never had a real shot at developing on the actual defense. He has stepped in as fullback on occasions and has filled a "

Mike Vrabel" type role of playing both offense and defense- he's even caught a couple touchdowns. He was never really given an opportunity to start and that most likely stunted his growth.

 

2003, 7thEthan Kelley NT (2003-04)

Stats: Played 3 seasons for the Cleveland Browns. Out of Football.

He spent his first season on the practice squad, which, for a 7th round pick, is an achievement in itself. In 2004, he was released after playing 1 game and signed with the Cleveland Browns. For a 7th round selection, Kelley had a pretty good career. With Ted Washington playing NT in 2003 and with Vince Wilfork and Keith Traylor playing NT in 2004, Kelley never had a chance in New England.

 

D-Line Coach – Pepper Johnson (04-)

2004, 1st – Vince Wilfork NT (2004-)

Stats: Current Starting NT for the New England Patriots.

Big Boy Vince Wilfork. Recently resigned to a long term contract, Wilfork has the opportunity to become the leader that Richard Seymour was at the beginning of the decade. Wilfork has been one of the best nose tackles in the NFL for a couple years now and should continue to play at a high level for many more years. He split playing time with Keith Traylor as a rookie and emerged as a starter the following year.

 

2004, 2ndMarquise HillDE (2004-06)

Stats: Died in a tragic accident in 2007. Was on the Patriots roster his entire NFL career.

Hill never really played. He was a sub in a few games in 2005, but never played well enough to grab a starting job. Like other DEs of the decade, Hill had to face competition with Seymour, Green and Warren, which meant that a player would be hard pressed to see time on the field. However, in 2005, Hill was beat out by undrafted Mike Wright (who saw playing time in 13 games, in comparison to the 8 games Hill played).

 

2006, 6th – Le Kevin SmithDE (2006-08)

Stats: Current third-string DE for the Denver Broncos.

Smith made the roster, despite sitting on the bench alongside Hill, Wright and Green and behind Seymour and Warren. Smith was usually placed inactive during games as a rookie, but was still on the roster. In 2007, Smith was active for most of the season, but remained a back-up. In 2008, it was more of the same as Smith remained a back-up. He was traded to the Broncos.

 

2007, 4thKareem Brown DE (2007)

Stats: Has not played.

He was released before the 2007 season began, marking the first "never had a chance" defensive line pick of the decade. While other players who were drafted to the overcrowded defensive line at least made the roster, Brown never made it to the season.


 

2009, 2ndRon Brace NT (2009-)

Stats: Used sparingly as a rookie.

Brace stepped in when both Wilfork and Pryor were injured and played reasonably well for a rookie cast into the fire, after having a rough first defensive drive. He showed some promise, but was passed by Pryor on the depth chart. With the 3-4 defense, there's little opportunity for all 3 NTs to get playing time so one player will have to ride the pine. That player was Brace. Hopefully, he can emerge next year as a bigger player on the defense. However, as long as Wilfork is healthy and playing, Brace's skill will remain unknown. Hopefully, we never have to see Brace play.

 

2009, 6thMyron Pryor DE/NT (2009-)

Stats: Played well as a rookie. Current #2 on the New England Patriots DE depth chart.

Pryor was one of the few players to get any pressure on the QB last season. Too short to play DE, Pryor was more of a change of pace player who subbed in and helped out wherever he was asked. Pryor should look for an enlarged role in the defense next year, while competing with numerous veterans for playing time.


 

2009, 7thDarryl Richard DE (2009-)

Stats: Did not play as a rookie.

Spent his rookie season on the practice squad.


 

2010, 7thBrandon Deaderick DE (2010-)

Stats: TBD

 

2010, 7thKade Weston DE (2010-)

Stats: TBD

 

With Seymour, Green, Warren and Wilfork locking down most of the playing time as early decade draft picks, there was little room for player development in the tail end of the decade. The lack of starting depth was exposed when Seymour was traded and there was no one to replace him. The Patriots were able to get by with their 3 starters (Seymour/Wilfork/Warren) and two back-ups (Green/Wright) that no draftee needed to become a good enough player. As a result, most defensive line draftees had short careers in New England.

The common theme for success is "continuity". Out of the 9 players drafted before 2009, only Marquise Hill and Le Kevin Smith had 3+ continuous years with a single coach and weren't top notch players. Both players were stuck in a position full of depth. It could be argued that Dan Klecko had a similar treatment with Romeo Crennel staying with the organization for Klecko's time on the line. However, there was a crowd at the defensive end position and Klecko only really stayed on the roster because of his versatility of playing fullback.

There are three types of situations players come into, on defense, and each situation has a different developmental result.

1) Drafted to an empty roster spot, expected to be a starter: Very rarely is a player asked to become an immediate starter on defense. Seymour was asked to step up as a 4-3 DT as a rookie. No player has been asked to do this ever since.

2) Drafted to a crowded roster spot, not expected anything: This is what happened in the middle and end of the decade. These players never really had a chance to make the team or, if they did, never had an opportunity to see the field due to the talent already filling the position. These players never have a chance at a career.

3) Drafted to an possible roster spot, expected to split time with an able veteran: Wilfork was a case where he split his rookie season time with Keith Traylor. Ty Warren split time as well. Expect Pryor, Brace and whatever other DE/NT that makes the roster this upcoming year to split time with newly acquired Gerard Warren, Damione Lewis and whatever other veteran makes the roster. Players in this situation usually do the best in the long run.

 

Players drafted: 14

# Coach T/Os: 2

Players with playing experience: 9 (Seymour, Green, Warren, Klecko, Kelley, Wilfork, Hill, Smith, Pryor)

Players considered a success: 4 (Seymour, Green, Warren, Wilfork, [Pryor remains to be seen])

Success Rate of Draft Picks: 33% (not counting Deaderick or Weston, including Brace, Pryor and Richard)

Success Rate of Players who See the Field: 44%

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