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New England Patriots Drafted Players Development: Wide Receivers

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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.

As of late, the Patriots have been content with picking up free agent receivers, or utilizing draft picks to trade for experienced players. There hasn't been much pressure to develop drafted receivers, especially due to the emergence of Randy Moss and Wes Welker, but that doesn't detract from the overall disappoint of some of the receiver picks this past decade.

WR Coach – Brian Daboll (02-05)

2002, 2ndDeion Branch (2002-05)

Stats: 390 recs, 4979 yards, 28 TDs. 1 Super Bowl MVP. Current WR for the Seattle Seahawks.

In his first season, he was #3 on the depth chart behind

Troy Brown and David Patten.  He quickly developed into our #1 receiver as a sophomore. He has an incredible rapport with Tom Brady and could be regarded as our greatest WR draft pick of the decade...back in 2002.

 

2002, 7thDavid Givens (2002-05)

Stats: 166 recs, 2318 yards, 12 TDs. Out of Football.

Often overlooked since he was picked in the same draft as Deion Branch, Givens was a very productive player while he was with the Patriots. He had a larger learning curve than Branch, but in 2004, when Branch got injured, Givens became our #1. In 2005, he dropped back down to #2 as Branch was healthy, but Givens still managed to be productive. The

Tennessee Titans overpaid for his services so he left. At Tennessee, he had an unfortunate injury which ended his career.

 

2003, 2ndBethel Johnson (2003-05)

Stats: 39 recs, 606 yards, 4 TDs. 147 KRs for 3611 yards and 2 TDs. Out of Football.

While Johnson had a lot of promise, he's

Darrius Heyward-Bey 1.0. He had blazing speed, but it didn't really translate onto the field. He had work ethic issues and wasn't a great player to develop. He had the body of work, but never put it to use. After the 2005 season, the Patriots traded him away. He was resigned a handful of times, but either got injured, failed physicals or just plain got cut. Showed a lack of effort.

 

2004, 5th – PK Sam (2004-05)

Stats: Never played.

 Spent his rookie year on IR and was waived after his rookie season. Never played an NFL down.

 

WR Coach – Nick Caserio (06-07)

2006, 2ndChad Jackson (2006-07)

Stats: 14 recs, 171 yards, 3 TDs. Current WR for the Buffalo Bills

 With a new WR coach, it seemed that the Patriots scrapped all of their old receivers and started from scratch. The Patriots traded up in the draft to acquire Jackson (the 2nd round pick they used to trade up was used on WR Greg Jennings), which hurts the general perception of Jackson. Jackson showed promise, but was hindered by injuries his entire rookie year. He still managed to play 11 games, but he was never at 100%. His season ended with a torn ACL in the 2006 AFC Championship Game. He was mainly on the IR/PUP list in 2007 and was released at the beginning of the 2008 season.

 

WR Coach – Bill O’Brien (08)

2008, 5thMatthew Slater (2008-)

Stats: Special teams player. 22 KRs for 424 yards. Current WR for the New England Patriots.

Slater, while listed as a WR, was a kick returner in college. As in,

he did not register a reception

in college. While it seems odd to utilize a 5th round pick on a kick returner, it isn't any more weird than selecting a kicker in the 4th, a long snapper in the 6th or punter in the 5th...if the kick returner works out. Unfortunately, Slater hasn't evolved into a kick returning phenom he was as a senior in college. He has done an average job, but he was expected to be a game changer. He hasn't been able to take the kick returning position for his own. Not really a receiver.

 

WR Coach – Chad O’Shea (09-)

2009, 3rdBrandon Tate (2009-)

Stats: Spent most of his rookie year on the injured reserve. Current WR for the New England Patriots.

 Tate was a first round talent who was injured and dropped to the Patriots in the 3rd. He wasn't really utilized as a rookie due to his injuries- but when he managed to return, he got another injury to his other knee. It's left unknown how he'll be as a receiver because of his injuries, but coaches rave about his progress. He's a hard worker who should help out in 2010 if he remains healthy.

 

2009, 7th – Julian Edelman (2009-)

Stats: 37 recs, 359 yards, 1 TD in rookie regular season. 44 yards and 2 TDs in playoffs. Current WR for the New England Patriots.

A fantastic late round pick up, Edelman is our Welker 2.0...and I think he has potential to be greater than Welker. He's bigger, faster and just as quick. He lacks the experience and on field intelligence that Welker possesses, but Edelman should gain both of those with time. With Welker injured, expect Edelman to hit the ground running and to put up huge numbers as a sophomore. Edelman was clearly drafted for the purpose of being a slot receiver and he's been developed to do that job very well.

 

2010, 3rdTaylor Price (2010-)

Stats: TBD

 

It seems as though every wide receiver coach brings in his own players and throws back the previous draftees. Only Slater carried over from one WR Coach to the next, and he's (arguably) not even a receiver. While I won't say that the WR coaches force receivers out of town, I do believe that each wants their own player to mold into the Patriots offense.

The 2002 receivers, Branch and Givens, have been the greatest successes and had the benefit of WR Coach Brian Daboll for 3 seasons.

Johnson has been the only true outright bust, while Sam and Jackson never developed due to terrible injuries. Johnson is easily comparable to contemporaries like Heyward-Bey and the newly drafted Demaryius Thomas- players who have burner speed, but questionable everything else. If they catch the ball, they're off to the races, except they never catch the ball. Johnson could even be compared to an undeveloped Joey Galloway in both skill set and inability to grasp the Patriots offense. He is capable of running in a straight line- but not much else. He was just a bad fit for the Patriots offense.

I can see current WR Coach Chad O'Shea sticking around for the position for another 4-5 years before looking for an upgrade elsewhere...should he do well with his current product. As with the other positions I've reviewed, every player who did well had a coach for 3+ years in a row. Should O'Shea stay and help see the growth of Tate, Edelman and Price, I think that we could have our receivers of the future. If O'Shea leaves, I don't think we'll see much progress in Tate, specifically.

Coach O'Shea is inexperienced and unproven, so there is little data to support the thought that he can develop players. Prior to joining the Patriots, Coach O'Shea was the WR coach for the Minnesota Vikings, where they had Brad Johnson and Tavaris Jackson at QB- neither really good for showing a WR's skill. I think that Coach O'Shea has a lot to teach our young receivers and can definitely develop them, if he stays for 3-4 more years.

Players drafted: 9

# Coach T/Os: 3

Players with playing experience: 6

Players considered a success: 3 (Branch, Givens, Edelman [I'm willing to call him a success])

Success Rate of Draft Picks: 33%

Success Rate of Players who See the Field: 50%

Success Rate of Experienced Players not Constantly Injured: 60% (I won't hold a grudge against Jackson)