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New England Patriots Drafted Players Development: Linebackers

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 past couple of seasons the Patriots have needed an upgrade at outside linebacker and for each draft that has passed, the Patriots have also passed on many top ranked draft prospects. Early decade success was a result of a great mixture of draft talent and free agent pick-ups. Recently, the Patriots have swung and missed with their outside linebacker pick-ups, apart from the average Tully Banta-Cain.

Do the Patriots avoid drafting linebackers because of their inability to groom them? Or because they're so easily replaceable by veterans?

LB Coaches – Pepper Johnson and Rob Ryan (01-03)

2001, 7th – TJ Turner OLB (2001)

Stats: Played 1 game. Out of Football.

7th round selection who wasn't expected to do anything.


2003, 7th – Tully Banta-Cain OLB (2003-06, 2009-)

Stats: Current starting OLB for the New England Patriots.

7th round pick who wasn't expected to do anything, but exceeded expectations and, after a short stint in San Francisco, returned to become our starting OLB. However, I think he is our starting OLB more so due to our lack of talent at the position and less because he's starting quality.

See the rest of the draft picks and how they've performed after the jump!

LB Coach – Dean Pees (04-06)

2005, 5th – Ryan Claridge ILB (2005)

Stats: Never played.   

Another player who never did anything.


2006, 6thJeremy Mincey OLB (2006)

Stats: Current role player for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Mincey never made it past the pre-season and was signed by the Jaguars. He has been a back-up role player who plays on special teams. He hasn't performed, but as a 6th round selection, he wasn't expected to.


LB Coach – Matt Patricia (07-)

2007, 6thJustin Rogers OLB (2007)

Stats: Special teams player for the Dallas Cowboys and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Rogers never made it out of the Patriots pre-season. He is now primarily an average special teams player.


2007, 7thOscar Lua ILB (2007)

Stats: Never played.

Lua was placed on the Patriots IR after he was drafted and was released at the end of the 2007 season. 


2008, 1stJerod Mayo ILB (2008-)

Stats: Current Starting ILB for the New England Patriots.

Mayo is the first, and arguably only, successful Patriots linebacker draftee of the decade. Mayo stepped into the role of a starter as a rookie and should be the cornerstone of our defense for the next decade. He performed better as a rookie due to having an experienced and talented cast surrounding him on defense. His play faltered in 2009 due to his week 1 injury, but also because the talent around him greatly decreased. He was asked to perform more out of his skill set and was unable to do what he normally does best- make stops and tackles.


2008, 3rdShawn Crable OLB (2008-)

Stats: Spent rookie and sophomore year on IR.

He has been injured since he was drafted and has yet to play an NFL down. Despite his inability to stay on the field, the Patriots have given him more time on the roster than any other injured draftee of the decade. If we weren't so weak at OLB, I would say that this pre-season would be his last chance to prove himself. Since we have no real players at OLB, I say that Crable will be given an extra season to show what he's made of.


2008, 6thBo Ruud ILB (2008)

Stats: Never played.

Ruud, like Crable, spent his rookie season on the IR. Ruud, unlike Crable, was released after his rookie season.


2009, 3rdTyrone McKenzie ILB (2009-)

Stats: Spent rookie year on IR.

McKenzie is in the same boat as Crable- he was injured before the start of his rookie season. Hopefully, McKenzie will blaze a new trail and be a healthy contributor as a sophomore.


2010, 2ndJermaine Cunningham OLB

Stats: TBD


2010, 2ndBrandon Spikes ILB

Stats: TBD


It's interesting that the Patriots have been devoting earlier and earlier draft picks to the linebacking position. Between 2001 and 2007, the earliest linebacker was taken in the 5th round- and none faced expectations of becoming star players on the defense. All of a sudden, between 2008 and 2010, the Patriots draft:

1st round: 1 ILB

2nd round: 1 ILB, 1 OLB

3rd round: 1ILB, 1 OLB

That's 5 early linebacker picks. The Patriots definitely seem to be bucking their previous trend of "we'll draft linebackers later." I think this is largely a result of the increase in teams that utilize the 3-4 defense. More teams are now going after Patriot players and the Patriots are unable to wait until the end of the draft to take potential players- they're starting to have to grab players earlier and earlier.

I also find it intriguing that apart from Tully Banta-Cain, Jerod Mayo was the first linebacker drafted to be on the roster for longer than 1 season. It's clear that the Patriots need to start developing their linebackers and can't continue to rely on "end of the draft" players. They need talent and they need it as soon as possible.

Looking at how the coaches have performed, I would say "not well." Rob Ryan worked with the OLBs and Pepper Johnson played with the ILBs to start the decade- and they did very well with the players on the roster. However, they didn't do a very good job of developing the drafted players, although I wouldn't hold it against them. They were given two 7th round picks. They did a solid job with the veteran players.

Next was Dean Pees. I think we saw a distinct decrease in our linebackers ferocity over Pees' stay as a coach. Our players seemed to lose their toughness, and I don't think it could be attributed to their age. He was unable to groom the drafted players, nor was he able to elevate the level of the players on the roster beyond what they were already playing.

Now, there's Matt Patricia. So far, it seems that he's been doing a better job at developing the players- but keep in mind that Patricia has been given much better product than the previous coaches. He's been given greater quality rookies, but lower quality veterans. Hopefully, the Patriots will give him a good enough balance of young players and experience so he can create a greater final product than Dean Pees.


Players drafted: 12

# Coach T/Os: 2

Players with playing experience: 2 (Banta-Cain, Mayo)

Players considered a success: 2 (Banta-Cain, Mayo)

Success Rate of Draft Picks: 22% (not counting Cunningham, Spikes or McKenzie)

Success Rate of Players who See the Field: 100%