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 have been struggling to solidify their secondary after their epic Super Bowl years, losing players like Lawyer Milloy and Ty Law. Since then, the Patriots have managed to have an average of two solid players in the defensive backfield (usually one cornerback and one safety), but, as of late, the Patriots have been looking hard for a cornerback who knows how to defend a wide receiver.
A big reason for our endless search is because we have trouble finding consistent players in the draft. The Patriots have utilized a little under 20% of our decade's draft picks on defensive backs, usually resulting in players who are simply average- not great players, but pretty good back-ups.
Why haven't the Patriots been able to draft stars?
DB Coach – Eric Mangini (01-04)
2001, 3rd – Brock Williams CB (2001-02)
Stats: Played 1 season for the Chicago Bears. Out of Football.
Williams spent his rookie season on the injured reserve because on a torn ACL. His sophomore year was cut short because of an ankle injury. Williams was then sent to the practice squad, where he was soon released. The rest of his career was plagued with injury.
2001, 5th – Hakim Akbar S (2001)
Stats: Rarely played. Out of Football.
Akbar was a special teamer as a rookie, but he hada terrible car accident in November
when he almost died. He was told by doctors that he wouldn't be able to play football again and was released following his rookie season. He has played in the NFL again as a special teamer, but never really accounted to anything.
2001, 6th – Leonard Myers CB (2001-03)
Stats: Rarely played. Out of Football.
Myers spent most of his time as a rookie back-up on the roster. As a sophomore, he spent the first half of the season on the PUP list. He did return and had a couple pretty good games (one as a starter), but he was still released at the beginning of 2003 pre-season. Myers reminds me a lot ofTerrence Wheatley- he had a good game against Peyton Manning and had a couple other promising games, but injury derailed his attempts at becoming a solid player.
2003, 2nd – Eugene Wilson CB (2003-07)
Stats: Current Starting S for the
I always liked Wilson as a player. He was a starter as a rookie and continued to start until an unfortunate injury in 2006. He was an extremely solid player, although he was never spectacular. He has since moved on to theHouston Texans where he has converted to safety and has had some success. With the Patriots, he was often overshadowed by fellow draftee Asante Samuel- especially in 2006. Samuel blew up in 2006 while Wilson experienced a blowout.
2003, 4th –
Stats: Current Starting CB for the
Samuel was responsible for the Helmet Catch on Black Sunday. That said, Samuel was the closest thing the Patriots had to a "top corner" since Ty Law. Unfortunately for the Patriots, that "top corner" title came with missed tackles and a lot of big risks- risks that eventually caught up to the team on the biggest stage. Samuel was let go because of the enormous contract he demanded, but also because Samuel didn't fit the "bend, don't break" mold of the defense. He was a "hit big, or break down" player, and remains that style of player to this day, finishing asTHE worst cornerback tackler in the league
See the draft picks and analysis from 2004 onwards after the jump!
2004, 3rd – Guss Scott S (2004-06)
Stats: Spent most of his career on the injured reserve. Out of Football.
Scott spent his rookie season on the injured reserve for a knee injury. Scott came back as a sophomore and began showing improvement over the season. However, in October, he was placed on the injured reserve again. He was released in December of 2006 after spending the beginning of the season injured. (Are you seeing a theme?)
2004, 4th – Dexter Reid S (2004)
Stats: Special teams ace. Faces prison time.
Reid was a special teams ace as a rookie in 2004. However, the Patriots released him following the season for giving up too many plays in the secondary. While he was a solid special teams player, the Patriots didn't think he had much of a future on defense. He was snagged by theColts. He is now out of football.
2004, 7th – Christian Morton CB (2004)
Stats: Never played.
Morton never made it through training camp.
DB Coach – Joel Collier (05-07)
2005, 3rd – Ellis Hobbs CB (2005-08)
Stats: Current Starting CB for the
Hobbs never emerged as an elite corner as we had hoped. He was a special teams return ace and a solid #3 corner, however he was often pitted against much better athletes than himself. He would always seem to miss tackles and give up big plays. He was a hit or miss player, giving both sides in a single game. He could swat away passes or give up touchdowns. In the end, like Samuel, Hobbs didn't really fit the "bend, don't break" mold of corner. Hobbs was then traded for, in essence, guardRich Ohrnberger and long snapper Jake Ingram.
2005, 4th – James Sanders S (2005-)
Stats: Current #3 S on the
Sanders is currently a safety on our roster. He's a talented player, but he won't be blowing anyone's mind with his play. He's a solid player who gets the job done, but don't expect him to create many opportunities. He's the perfect player for the "bend, don't break" defense since he's a sound tackler- it's just that he stops plays after they happen and doesn't stop thembefore they occur. He is a great locker room guy and should stick around.
2006, 7th – Willie Andrews CB (2006-07)
Stats: Returned 1 kick for a TD, primarily a STer. Out of Football.
Andrews was a late round pick who was a talented special teams player. However, after the 2007 season, he was arrested a handful of times (which is a handful of times too many). He was released. He did show promise on the field.
2007, 1st – Brandon Meriweather S (2007-)
Stats: Current Starting S for the
Meriweather should be looked at as one of the top 2 secondary draft picks of the decade (up there with Samuel). He has grown as a player since his rookie season and should be a reliable, if not excellent, starter for the rest of his time in New England. He is a Pro Bowl player and should continue to impress next year.
2007, 6th – Mike Richardson CB (2007-08)
Stats: Current #3 CB for the
Richardson spent his rookie season on the IR. As a sophomore, he spent time on the practice squad, until he was promoted to special teams player. He made some plays, but was never anything special.
DB Coach – Dom Capers (08)
2008, 2nd – Terrence Wheatley CB (2008-)
Stats: Current last CB on the New England Patriots.
Wheatley captured every fan's heart with a terrific performance against Peyton Manning, as a rookie. However, he also got injured that game and hasn't really seen the field since that time. He spent a healthy 2009 season behind fellow draft pick Jonthan Wilhite, as well as veteran Shawn Springs and rookie Darius Butler. I think this pre-season will be his last chance to prove himself, as I think 2010 rookie Devin McCourty will take his roster spot.
2008, 4th – Jonathan Wilhite CB (2008-)
Stats: Current #4 CB on the
Wilhite is a nickelback. That's all he is. However, due to lack of depth in the secondary, Wilhite was forced to play as a #2 CB where he was always overmatched. His play quality decreased as he wasn't able to stick with the players he was assigned. Next year, hopefully either Butler or McCourty will emerge as a reliable #2 so Wilhite can go back to his better position of nickelback.
DB Coach – Josh Boyer (09-)
2009, 2nd – Pat Chung S (2009-)
Stats: STer as a rookie.
Chung played in every game as a rookie. He was a great change of pace safety and appears to be following the same track as Meriweather, in terms of player development. Without a solid #2 safety on the roster, perhaps Chung can learn how to play alongside Meriweather. However, since both Chung and Meriweather have a similar style of game, I'm not sure how they'd compliment each other on the field.
2009, 2nd – Darius Butler CB (2009-)
Stats: Used as the #3 CB on the
Butler is a potential rising star. He was solid in the nickelback rotation with Shawn Springs and sometimes Wilhite. He has the athletic body to develop into a solid #2 corner. He will be facing rookie Devin McCourty for the #2 spot this pre-season, barring a surprise emergence of Wheatley, Wilhite or Springs. Butler is the more explosive player, while McCourty is the shiftier, more disruptive player. Look for a great competition in training camp.
2010, 1st – Devin McCourty CB (2010-)
6 draftees were injured early on. 1 never made it through camp. 1 was arrested. 1 is now facing prison time. That represents 50% of the draftees. Some websites have been blaming the Patriots secondary woes on poor draft jobs. However, looking further at the players, it seems that out of the players who were healthy on the field and responsible off it, the Patriots didn't do too poorly.
Out of the remaining 8 players who managed to stay on the field (not including McCourty), all 8 have done respectably on the field.
Wilson, Samuel, Hobbs, Sanders, Meriweather, Wilhite, Chung, Butler. Six of those players have been starters, while the other two were rookies last year. Two are above average (possibly elite) players. Four are serviceable starters (Wilson, Hobbs, Sanders, Wilhite). The other two show extreme amounts of potential.
The Patriots do very well with the draft picks who are healthy. Should McCourty remain healthy, look for him to be another name on the "success" list.
Looking at the coaching staff, I don't think the positional coaches have any real unique abilities. While it is true that Eric Mangini did an excellent job as a positional coach and, most likely, had a hand in the players' success as a defensive coordinator, there wasn't any real drop off in player success after he left the franchise.
I think that the success of these defensive backs has more to do with the player fitting the right scheme, as opposed to a player being groomed to play the defense. If a player is drafted, able to play the type of defense that the Patriots want (bend, don't break), they should have a good career in New England. McCourty, with his ability to stop the run, knock down the pass and make a sure tackle, seems like the perfect fit for our defense.
Players drafted: 18
# Coach T/Os: 3
Players with playing experience: 11
Players considered a success: 8
Success Rate of Draft Picks: 44% (not McCourty)
Success Rate of Players who See the Field: 73%
Success Rate of Players who See the Field and Avoid the Law: 89%
Maybe the idea that the Patriots struggle to draft good secondary players is a myth?
As for the thought that the Patriots expend too many draft picks on defensive backs- how many DBs are on a typical roster? 5 CBs and 4 safeties? That's 17% of the roster. The Patriots use under 20% of their picks on DBs. That seems like a fair amount.