The New England Patriots have a horrible track record with early round wide receivers. Bethel Johnson, Chad Jackson, Brandon Tate, Taylor Price, Aaron Dobson, and Josh Boyce have been the past six wide receivers taken by the Patriots in the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th rounds of the NFL draft.
These six have combined for 1,894 receiving yards in Patriots uniforms. Dobson, with 698 career yards, is the best early round receiver. In 21 combined seasons, on or off the Patriots team, Dobson's rookie season (519 yards) and Tate's sophomore season (432) are the only two where the receiver picked up more than 215 yards from scrimmage.
When we compare the production of the Patriots wide receivers to the expected production of a player selected in their relative draft position, it gets even uglier.
Yards from Scrimmage by Draft Pick Range over the past decade. pic.twitter.com/cEkapustGQ— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) February 15, 2016
On average, players selected at the end of the 2nd round gain 2,000 yards from scrimmage over their first four seasons in the league (the same length as the rookie contract). That's in line with what running back Shane Vereen picked up over his contract, and is actually below what tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and running back Stevan Ridley picked up.
Those players exceeded expectations.
Now what's curious about that graph is how the expected production of a player increases over the span of the 2nd round; why would a late 2nd rounder be expected to produce more than an early 2nd rounder?
Buy, Buy, Buy at the end of the 2nd round. pic.twitter.com/vJArGrTWIM— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) February 15, 2016
My hypothesis is that teams selecting at the top of the second round are bad teams that need to focus more on team building players than skill players. Nearly twice as many linebackers and defensive backs are drafted at the top of the 2nd round than at the bottom, and the same applies to the quarterback position. This pushes the offensive skill players towards the bottom of the round to teams that are more established.
There's also the factor that not all positions are expected to produce the same amount.
Different positions have different expected yields. Early RBs >>>> late ones, not as stark for WR/TE. pic.twitter.com/IThG1zthJN— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) February 15, 2016
What we find is that 2nd round running backs are expected to produce at a much higher level than their later round counterparts, as players like Ray Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew, and LeSean McCoy all exceeded expectations. Vereen's 1,930 yards from scrimmage falls from being the overall average at 56th overall to being roughly 850 yards below expectation for a later second round running back.
On the flip side, Ridley produced roughly 850 yards above expectation, so the two players balanced out.
42nd overall Gronkowski and 113th Hernandez have generated the 2nd and 4th greatest value at tight end, with 95th overall Jimmy Graham leading the pack and 98th overall Owen Daniels coming in third.
But no matter how great head coach Bill Belichick can be at evaluating talent, the wide receiver role seems just out of his reach of evaluation from a college level.
Dobson's 698 yards of production is definitely sub-par, especially after his quality rookie season. If Dobson never plays another down in New England, he'll have posted nearly 600 fewer yards than expectation- and he still wouldn't be the worst receiver pick.
Boyce is slated to earn 700 fewer yards than expectation, the 2nd lowest of the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th round skill players in the 2013 draft, ahead of only running back Christine Michael (Dobson is 5th lowest). Taylor Price gained 900 below expectation.
But the gold standard will forever be Chad Jackson at 36th overall, with his 193 career yards a shocking 1,300 yards below expectation.
Of the 103 receivers drafted in the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th rounds from 2006-12, Jackson ranks 101st in value, ahead of only the Bills James Hardy (96 career yards at 41st overall) and the Buccaneers Dexter Jackson (0 career yards at 58th overall). He is one rank behind the Steelers Limas Sweed (69 career yards at 53rd overall).
Since they don't have a first round pick, the Patriots have a need in this draft to absolutely stick the landing with their 2nd round pick. They have a need at offensive tackle, running back, and wide receiver.
Belichick has an exceptional track record when it comes to taking early round offensive linemen, and running backs offer the greatest on-field production of the skill groups. Perhaps it would be in the team's best interest to address the wide receiver position in free agency, and allow Belichick to play to his strengths in the draft.