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New England Patriots Draft History: Which Draft Was Bill Belichick's Best?

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With the 2015 NFL draft two weeks away, let's take a look at the Patriots' last 15 drafts to find Bill Belichick's hits and misses.

Looking into the future...
Looking into the future...
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

A front office's job is to build a roster that is both deep and talented, but still affordable. There are numerous ways to do that. Teams can use free agency to fill certain needs of their roster, or they can make trades. The number one way to build a roster, however, has always been the same: via the draft.

For years, the New England Patriots' front office – led by head coach/general manager Bill Belichick – has explored all those different paths of creating the best possible roster. We have seen the team pull off successful trades, splashy free agency signings and great drafts.

Not all have been equally successful, though. Some trades were better than others (Akeem Ayers vs. Isaac Sopoaga for instance); some free agents more successful (Darrelle Revis vs. Albert Haynesworth). And some of Bill Belichick's 15 drafts as head honcho of the Patriots fielded more satisfying results than others.

Note: we are simply focusing on the drafts here and not on the process of signing undrafted players – for an analysis on that, click here.

 

2000

 

Round Pick Player Position College
2 46 Adrian Klemm OT Hawaii
3 76 J.R. Redmond RB Arizona State
4 127 Greg Robinson-Randall OT Michigan State
5 141 Dave Stachelski TE Boise State

161 Jeff Marriott DT Missouri
6 187 Antwan Harris S Virginia

199 Tom Brady QB Michigan
201 David Nugent DE Purdue
7 226 Casey Tisdale LB New Mexico
239 Patrick Pass FB Georgia

 

The Patriots hit the ultimate jackpot with Tom Brady in the sixth round but also found Patrick Pass, who was the team's fullback for seven seasons, in the seventh. Furthermore, Adrian Klemm and Antwan Harris were five-years back-ups in New England. Out of the team's 10 selections, however, only Brady and Pass went on to find prolonged success in Foxboro.

 

Due to the acquisition of Belichick from the New York Jets, the Patriots sent their 2000 first round selection to their new head coach's former team as a compensation (a pick that turned into defensive end Shaun Ellis), and thus were unable to select a player until pick number 46.

 

2001

 

Round Pick Player Position College
1 6 Richard Seymour DT Georgia
2 48 Matt Light OT Purdue
3 86 Brock Williams CB Notre Dame
4 96 Kenyatta Jones OT South Florida
119 Jabari Holloway TE Notre Dame
5 163 Hakim Akbar S Washington
6 180 Arther Love TE South Carolina State
200 Leonard Myers CB Miami
7 216 Owen Pochman K BYU
239 T.J. Turner LB Michigan State

 

Just like the year before, New England had 10 draft picks – and just like the year before, they only found two long-term contributors: defensive lineman Richard Seymour and offensive tackle Matt Light. The duo would turn into All-Pro-caliber players, though, and both were valuable members of the Patriots' early dynasty years.

 

2002

 

Round Pick Player Position College
1 21 Daniel Graham TE Colorado
2 65 Deion Branch WR Louisville
4 117 Rohan Davey QB LSU
126 Jarvis Green DE LSU
7 237 Anwoine Womack RB Virginia
253 David Givens WR Notre Dame

 

New England traded up in the first round to select Daniel Graham, and thus only had six selections in the 2002 draft. The team made the most out of the remaining picks. Graham and Jarvis Green were important role players during the Patriots' second and third Super Bowl winning seasons and beyond, Deion Branch was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX, and David Givens still holds the team record for most postseason touchdown receptions (seven).

 

2003

 

Round Pick Player Position College
1 13 Ty Warren DT Texas A&M
2 36 Eugene Wilson CB Illinois
45 Bethel Johnson WR Texas A&M
4 117 Dan Klecko DT Temple
120 Asante Samuel CB Central Florida
5 164 Dan Koppen C Boston College
6 201 Kliff Kingsbury QB Texas Tech
7 234 Spencer Nead TE BYU
239 Tully Banta-Cain LB California
243 Ethan Kelley DT Baylor

 

The Patriots found a lot of successful players in 2003, even though second round pick Bethel Johnson, for whom the team traded up, would eventually go down in history as one of Belichick's worst selections. Warren, Wilson, Samuel and Koppen all turned into starters, while Tully Banta-Cain found some success as a rotational pass rusher.

 

Warren and Koppen eventually signed contract extensions with New England, while Samuel was the team's franchise player in 2007. Banta-Cain, after leaving the team in free agency, eventually returned to Foxboro for two more years.

 

2004

 

Round Pick Player Position College
1 21 Vince Wilfork DT Miami
32 Benjamin Watson TE Georgia
2 63 Marquise Hill DE LSU
3 95 Guss Scott S Florida
4 113 Dexter Reid S North Carolina
128 Cedric Cobbs RB Arkansas
5 164 P.K. Sam WR Florida State
7 233 Christian Morton CB Florida State

 

Wilfork was a home-run of a selection for the Patriots, while Watson played six seasons as the team's primary tight end. New England got little production out of the rest of its 2004 draft class, however: on opening day 2007 (three and a half months after the tragic death of second round pick Marquise Hill), six of eight 2004 draft choices were no longer with the team.

 

2005

 

Round Pick Player Position College
1 32 Logan Mankins OT Fresno State
3 84 Ellis Hobbs CB Iowa State
100 Nick Kaczur OT Toledo
4 133 James Sanders S Fresno State
5 170 Ryan Claridge LB UNLV
7 230 Matt Cassel QB USC
255 Andy Stokes TE William Penn

 

The Patriots had a productive draft in 2005, selecting several contributors on both sides of the ball. Mankins and Kaczur were starters at left guard and right tackle, respectively, while Hobbs and Sanders were key members of New England's secondary; Hobbs also was the team's primary kick returner and set a then-NFL record for the longest kick off return (108 yards). Cassel filled in for an injured Tom Brady in 2009, leading the Patriots to 11 wins.

 

Three of the team's seven selections – Mankins, Kaczur and Sanders – signed second contracts with New England, while Matt Cassel was franchise tagged (and subsequently traded to the Kansas City Chiefs) in 2009. Hobbs was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2009 draft for two fifth round picks (which eventually turned into guard Rich Ohrnberger and long snapper Jake Ingram).

 

2006

 

Round Pick Player Position College
1 21 Laurence Maroney RB Minnesota
2 36 Chad Jackson WR Florida
3 86 David Thomas TE Texas
4 106 Garrett Mills TE Tulsa
118 Stephen Gostkowski K Memphis
5 136 Ryan O'Callaghan OT California
6 191 Jeremy Mincey DE Florida
205 Dan Stevenson G Notre Dame
206 Le Kevin Smith DT Nebraska
7 229 Willie Andrews S Baylor

 

After a solid 2005 draft, the Patriots were less successful in 2006. The team's best pick was Stephen Gostkowski, arguably the premier kicker in the NFL. First round selection Laurence Maroney eventually turned into New England's starting running back but was traded to the Denver Broncos in 2010. He registered 3275 yards from scrimmage and 25 touchdowns in his 52 games with the Patriots.

 

The rest of the 2006 draft class was – to put it kindly – mediocre at best. While David Thomas and Ryan O'Callaghan became serviceable back-up players, the rest of the draft class contributed next to nothing (although Jeremy Mincey turned into a solid defender for the Jacksonville Jaguars). Above them all stands Chad Jackson – another second round wide receiver for whom the Patriots traded up – who appeared in only 14 games over the course of two seasons.

 

2007

 

Round Pick Player Position College
1 24 Brandon Meriweather S Miami
4 127 Kareem Brown DE Miami
5 171 Clint Oldenburg OT Colorado State
6 180 Justin Rogers LB SMU
202 Mike Richardson CB Notre Dame
208 Justise Hairston RB Central Connecticut State
209 Corey Hilliard G Oklahoma State
7 211 Oscar Lua LB USC
7 247 Mike Elgin C Iowa

 

From the college-player-selection-process-perspective, New England's 2007 draft was unsuccessful. Brandon Meriweather became the team's starting strong safety but left in free agency 2010 – the Patriots showed little interest in retaining his services. Out of the other eight players of the Patriots' 2007 draft class only cornerback Mike Richardson appeared in a game for the Patriots.

 

While the actual drafting of college players was a failure for the Patriots, they found success in another area of the draft: trades. Prior to the draft, the team dealt its second and seventh round picks to the Miami Dolphins for wide receiver Wes Welker. On draft weekend, New England traded its second first round pick (the first one, used on Meriweather, was acquired by the Seattle Seahawks as a compensation for Deion Branch) to the San Francisco 49ers for a 2008 first round pick and a 2007 fourth round selection. The latter was sent to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for wide receiver Randy Moss.

 

2008

 

Round Pick Player Position College
1 10 Jerod Mayo LB Tennessee
2 62 Terrence Wheatley CB Colorado
3 78 Shawn Crable LB Michigan
94 Kevin O'Connell QB San Diego State
4 129 Jonathan Wilhite CB Auburn
5 153 Matthew Slater WR UCLA
6 197 Bo Ruud LB Nebraska

 

While the league forfeited the Patriots' original first round selection due to cameraman-in-the-wrong-location-gate, the team still was able to pick in the opening round, courtesy of the above-mentioned 2007 trade with the San Francisco 49ers. New England made the most out of this selection, drafting defensive rookie of the year, future All-Pro and team captain Jerod Mayo. Another future All-Pro and team captain, Matthew Slater, was drafted in the fifth round.

 

The Patriots got little production out of the rest of their 2008 draft class, although fourth round pick Jonathan Wilhite started 13 games for the team during his three-year tenure in Foxboro.

 

2009

 

Round Pick Player Position College
2 34 Patrick Chung S Oregon
40 Ron Brace DT Boston College
41 Darius Butler CB Connecticut
58 Sebastian Vollmer OT Houston
3 83 Brandon Tate WR North Carolina
97 Tyrone McKenzie LB South Florida
4 123 Rich Ohrnberger G Penn State
5 170 George Bussey G Louisville
6 198 Jake Ingram LS Hawaii
207 Myron Pryor DT Kentucky
7 232 Julian Edelman QB Kent State
234 Darryl Richard DT Georgia Tech

 

The Patriots were busy on draft weekend 2009, picking 12 players and making seven trades. Out of the players selected, New England found some serviceable role players (Tate, Pryor) but also some disappointments (Brace, Butler, McKenzie). The team also selected two All-Pro talents: Sebastian Vollmer and Julian Edelman – both key members of the Patriots' offense.

 

Patrick Chung, the Patriots' first selection in 2009, re-joined the team in 2014 after spending his 2013 campaign with the Philadelphia Eagles.

 

2010

 

Round Pick Player Position College
1 27 Devin McCourty CB Rutgers
2 42 Rob Gronkowski TE Arizona
53 Jermaine Cunningham LB Florida
62 Brandon Spikes LB Florida
3 90 Taylor Price WR Ohio
4 113 Aaron Hernandez TE Florida
5 150 Zoltan Mesko P Michigan
6 205 Ted Larsen C NC State
7 208 Thomas Welch OT Vanderbilt
247 Brandon Deaderick DE Alabama
248 Kade Weston DT Georgia
250 Zac Robinson QB Oklahoma State

 

As they did in 2009, the Patriots were pretty active during the 2010 NFL draft: just like the year prior, the team selected 12 players and made seven trades. They found a little more short-term success in 2010, though, and selected seven players, who would become part-time starters.

 

Of those seven, two are still with the Patriots: safety Devin McCourty and tight end Rob Gronkowski; both are signed through the 2019 season and are foundation type players. For about a year it looked as if Aaron Hernandez – who, in August 2012, signed a contract extension through 2018 and was released by the team in June 2013 – would join the duo.

 

The other four former starters – Cunningham, Spikes, Mesko and Deaderick – are currently free agents but appeared in a combined 169 games for the Patriots. Sixth round pick Ted Larsen, whom the team released during roster cut-downs, is currently projected to start at guard for the 2015 Arizona Cardinals.

 

2011

 

Round Pick Player Position College
1 17 Nate Solder OT Colorado
2 33 Ras-I Dowling CB Virginia
56 Shane Vereen RB California
3 73 Stevan Ridley RB LSU
74 Ryan Mallett QB Arkansas
5 138 Marcus Cannon OT TCU
159 Lee Smith TE Marshall
6 194 Markell Carter LB Central Arkansas
7 219 Malcolm Williams CB TCU

 

In 2011, the Patriots once again had a multitude of draft picks. While only two players – Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon – remain with New England today, the team found other contributors in running backs Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley as well as quarterback Ryan Mallett, whom the Patriots – even though he never played valuable snaps during his time in Foxboro – trusted enough to make him Tom Brady's sole back-up.

 

While the team drafted well in 2011, one pick turned out a bust: cornerback Ras-I Dowling. Drafted with the valuable first pick of the second day, Dowling simply could not stay healthy and as a result appeared in only nine games for the Patriots, prior to his release in August 2013.

 

2012

 

Round Pick Player Position College
1 21 Chandler Jones DE Syracuse
25 Dont'a Hightower LB Alabama
2 48 Tavon Wilson S Illinois
3 90 Jake Bequette DE Arkansas
6 197 Nate Ebner S Ohio State
7 224 Alfonzo Dennard CB Nebraska
235 Jeremy Ebert WR Northwestern

 

The motto of 2012 was quality over quantity: of the seven draft picks the Patriots made, six are still on the roster. The team chose to trade up twice in the first round to snatch defenders Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower – both have turned into starters and seem to be in the franchise's long term plans.

 

The team also found two core special teamers in Ebner and Wilson. On the one hand, the argument can be made that the latter had been overdrafted but, on the other, he still plays a starting-caliber number of snaps.

 

Time will tell if seventh round pick Alfonzo Dennard will re-conquer a starting spot – he held one prior to the arrival of Brandon Browner in 2014 – and if third round pick Jake Bequette can crack the defensive end rotation.

 

2013

 

Round Pick Player Position College
2 52 Jamie Collins LB Southern Miss

59 Aaron Dobson WR Marshall
3 83 Logan Ryan CB Rutgers
91 Duron Harmon S Rutgers
4 102 Josh Boyce WR TCU
7 226 Michael Buchanan DE Illinois
235 Steve Beauharnais LB Rutgers

 

For the second time in five years, New England did not pick a player in the first round of the draft. Instead, the team opted to trade back to acquire more picks via a one-for-four deal with the Minnesota Vikings. The trade paid off, as all four of those picks are still with the team: Jamie Collins, Logan Ryan, Josh Boyce and running back LeGarrette Blount (the Patriots traded the Vikings' seventh round pick and running back Jeff Demps to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Blount).

 

While Collins, Ryan and Harmon look like safe bets to make the Patriots' 2015 roster, second round wide receiver (sounds familiar?) Aaron Dobson faces a potential make-or-break year. He had a solid rookie campaign but was plagued by injuries in his sophomore season and as a result played only four games.

 

2014

 

Round Pick Player Position College
1 29 Dominique Easley DT Florida
2 62 Jimmy Garoppolo QB Eastern Illinois
4 105 Bryan Stork C Florida State
130 James White RB Wisconsin
140 Cameron Fleming OT Stanford
6 179 Jon Halapio G Florida
198 Zach Moore DE Concordia-St. Paul
206 Jemea Thomas CB Georgia Tech
7 244 Jeremy Gallon WR Michigan

 

New England's most recent draft produced only one starter – as of yet. Bryan Stork was inserted into the starting offensive line in week 4 and never looked back; he could hold down the center spot for years to come.

 

The rest of the 2014 draft class is one collective question mark. Easley and Garoppolo flashed their talent in limited action, as did tackle Cameron Fleming. White might see more snaps next season due to the departure of Shane Vereen.

 

Dubbed a "draft for the future", this future might come sooner for some players (Easley, White) than others (Garoppolo, Fleming).

 

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Under Bill Belichick's leadership, New England has drafted 133 players for an average of 8.9 selections per year. The positions targeted with those selections are as follows:

Position Quantity
Linebacker 16
Cornerback 16
Offensive Tackle 13
Wide Receiver 12
Tight End 12
Defensive Tackle 12
Safety 11
Defensive End 10
Quarterback 9
Running Back 8
Guard 5
Center 4
Kicker 2
Fullback 1
Punter 1
Long Snapper 1

 

The method of accumulating draft picks during the process of selecting players worked: the Patriots have been able to maintain success over the course of the last 15 seasons even though they usually select at the bottom of each round. On average, New England made its first pick at spot 25.

 

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The Patriots during Bill Belichick's reign have had some stellar drafts. Which one takes the proverbial cake, though?