As New England Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell reintegrates into the offense after missing the early part of the season resting his foot injury, the shine on third year receiver Aaron Dobson continues to fade. It seems that Dobson is going the way of the rest of Bill Belichick's wide receiver picks over the past decade: nowhere.
Bill Belichick has drafted just three wide receivers that have gained over 1,000 yards in the NFL:
2002 2nd round, WR Deion Branch; Patriots stats: 7 years, 4308 yards, 24 touchdowns
2002 7th round, WR David Givens; Patriots stats: 4 years, 2,227 yards, 12 touchdowns
2009 7th round, WR Julian Edelman; Patriots stats: 7 years, 3526 yards, 20 touchdowns
That's it. Out of 13 draft picks, just three have picked up 1,000 yards in the NFL. Not in a single season- in their whole career. In fact, Julian Edelman's 2013 season, where he collected 1,056 yards, was the first thousand yard wide receiver that Bill Belichick has drafted.
Now there's Dobson. It turns out that Dobson has been the 4th most successful wide receiver under Belichick, picking up 676 yards and 4 touchdowns. He edges out Brandon Tate's 505 yards and 3 touchdowns while with the Patriots. Here's a graveyard of the Patriots best seasons by a drafted receiver, other than Branch, Givens or Edelman. It's ugly.
It's not good and it shows that there's a clear flaw in the Patriots college scouting of receivers when a converted quarterback is the best draftee of the past 13 years.
There's no question that Bill Belichick and company can scout a player once they're in the NFL; Wes Welker and Randy Moss and Brandon Lloyd and Brandon LaFell have all been successes. But when it comes to evaluating college receivers and projecting their growth in the NFL, the Patriots need to self-reflect and improve.
Of course, the 2013 class isn't as great as it was originally touted to be and they are greatly overshadowed by the phenomenal 2014 class.
The 2013 draft class has the Texans DeAndre Hopkins, a bona fide star, and Keenan Allen, a high quality player that was unfortunately lost for the year with a lacerated kidney.
And yet Dobson isn't a complete lost hope in the NFL. Historical data, courtesy of Pro Football Reference, shows that the average receiver selected at Dobson's draft rank should be expected to gain roughly 30 yards per game, which is right in line with his production. If the Patriots wanted a player that would be expected to pick up more than 50 yards per game, New England would have to target a player in the top 12.
That isn't very likely and it is why the Patriots continue to bring in veterans to try and bolster their receiving corps. Coincidentally, the contract that Brandon LaFell commanded averages $3 million per season, which is roughly the same value as what the 12th overall pick is receiving.
Maybe Dobson could go on to have a solid career as a role player in a different offense, but he can't be expected to shine in New England. He's currently the seventh receiving option on offense, behind Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, LaFell, Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola, and Scott Chandler. Dobson entered a situation where he could have grabbed the top position, but when he missed he lost his chance.
Dobson sums up everything that's wrong with the Patriots college scouting at wide receiver. He was a developmental prospect entering a offense where he didn't get the chance to develop on the field. He is a receiver that builds up his speed in an offense that relies on quick passing. He's a square peg that doesn't really align with what the Patriots play on offense.
No young player is going to get to see the field with the current offensive depth, which is why only an NFL-ready prospect makes sense- and those players are all selected before the first round is over.
Prior failures aren't a reason to stop trying to find success, but not learning from these failures deserves criticism and reflection. We can easily point to Bill Belichick's recent success with his secondary players as evidence that the scouting department can turn it around.
Lesson number one: Stop drafting developmental prospects that aren't advanced route runners in the early rounds. Players don't see the field in this offense unless they prove themselves, but receivers need time on the field to develop. Projects will never play.
And now the improvement can begin.