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.
The Patriots haven't had any stability at the tight end position since Ben Coates- and that's a long time ago. The Patriots have, up until this past season, have spent their draft picks on potential all-around tight ends- and they've missed on a lot of them. This past draft, they've spent two picks on players with distinct playing abilities. Rob Gronkowski is a big, strong in-line blocker who is a red zone threat. Aaron Hernandez is a smaller down field blocker who is an open field threat.
What players have the Patriots tried to make into stars?
TE Coach – Jeff Davidson (01-04)
2001, 4th – Jarabi Holloway (2001)
Stats: 15 recs, 157 yards. Played for the Houston Texans for 2 seasons. Out of Football.
Holloway was the first player to try and step into a big role on the Patriots offense. He was placed on the IR before the season started and didn't play a down for the Patriots before he was let go. He signed with the Texans and put up the above stats. Jermaine Wiggins, Rod Rutledge and Fellow 6th rounder Arthur Love were the tight ends on the roster.
2001, 6th – Arthur Love (2001-02)
Stats: Never played.
Love also started off injured, starting his rookie year on the PUP and was inactive for the remainder of the season. He was released during the pre-season of 2002. The Patriots struck out on both tight ends in 2001, but mainly because both were on some sort of injury report to start the season.
2002, 1st – Daniel Graham (2002-06)
Stats: 204 recs, 2317 yards, 24 TDs. Team Captain. Current TE for the
Graham was the first big success out of the tight ends drafted. He was a big player in college, with high hopes in the NFL. He won the John Mackey Award, which is given to the best college receiver in the country. However, on the Patriots, he was just a blocking tight end- which basically means he played a receiving offensive lineman. Not really worth a first round pick. The Patriots traded up to grab Graham. Graham never developed as a big target receiving TE.
2003, 7th – Spencer Nead (2003)
Stats: 1 rec, 6 yards. Played for the
Nead was released prior to the 2003 season began.
2004, 1st – Benjamin Watson (2004-09)
Stats: 167 recs, 2102 yards, 20 TDs. Current TE for the Cleveland Browns.
Watson was expected to be the receiving tight end complement to the blocking Graham. Watson was able to be a receiving Tight End, from time to time, but never really commanded attention at the position. He averaged under 30 receptions a season and a little over 3 TDs a year- not really the production desired from a first round draft pick. He was an average tight end, but nothing spectacular.
TE Coach – Pete Mangurian (05-08)
2005, 7th – Andy Stokes (2005)
Stats: Never played.
Stokes was cut during training camp. However, he was the last player drafted by the Patriots and nothing was really expected of him. The Patriots utilizedChristian Fauria, Graham and Watson for the season.
2006, 3rd – David Thomas (2006-2008)
Stats: 56 recs, 617 yards, 2 TDs. Current TE for the New Orleans Saints.
The Patriots let Fauria go and went with Thomas instead. With Watson and Graham ahead of him as a rookie, Thomas didn't really have a chance to perform as a rookie- until week 16 when Watson was injured. Thomas rewarded the team with a fantastic game. In 2007, Thomas was injured. In 2008, the Patriots played withMatt Cassel and Watson Thomas was almost non-existent in the offense as Wes Welker and Randy Moss took all the passes. Thomas was then traded for a 7th round pick.
2006, 4th – Garrett Mills (2006-07)
Stats: 7 recs, 91 yards. Current TE for the
Mills was drafted to play an Aaron Hernandez type role, as a TE/HB player. He didn't really catch anything as a rookie since, like Thomas, he had Watson and Graham ahead of him on the depth chart. In 2007, the Patriots decided to let Mills go in the pre-season, hoping to have him sit on the practice squad- the Vikings snagged him.
TE Coach – Shane Waldron (09)
TE Coach – Brian Ferentz (10-)
2010, 2nd – Rob Gronkowski
2010, 4th – Aaron Hernandez
An interesting stat to look at is the 8 Tight Ends drafted in 6 consecutive years to open the decade. Why? Out of those 8 players, only Graham, Watson and Thomas had any real offensive snaps. All the other players were either released prior to the season or were injured. Mills was the only tight end drafted who didn't spend his time on the IR or was a 7th round pick and he wasn't given the opportunity to develop with the Patriots as the Vikings grabbed him prior to joining the Patriots practice squad.
I would point a finger more towards the drafting ideology than the coaching philosophy as most of the draftees were injured product.
Looking at the players who stuck on the roster (Graham, Watson, Thomas), the Patriots did a mediocre job of developing their talent. Both Graham and Watson had 3 years to develop with a coach (Davidson and Mangurian, respectively), while Thomas was traded before he had the chance to grow. Both Graham and Watson, the first rounders, never lived up to the expectations associated with him.
With Brian Ferentz most likely taking over the reigns for the tight ends, I'm hoping that he can help develop Gronkowski and Hernandez into two game changing tight ends.
Players drafted: 10
# Coach T/Os: 3
Players with playing experience: 3
Players considered a success: 2 (Graham, Watson)
Success Rate of Draft Picks: 20%
Success Rate of Players who See the Field: 66%
While I wouldn't call Watson or Graham great successes, I wouldn't call them complete busts.