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Patriots dominant 2015 rookie class allowed team to move on from earlier draft picks

The Patriots are still in good shape moving forward.

New York Jets v New England Patriots Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images

With the trade of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, the New England Patriots have just two players remaining from their 2014 draft class as Bernd highlighted earlier. I think it’s also worth looking at Patriots draft classes over the past decade to see how the team has been able to retain talent and whether or not there should be any concern about the youth of the roster moving forward.

  • 2008 NFL Draft: 7 players totals, 1 with the Patriots. Special teams captain Matthew Slater is the only one left on the team and active in the NFL.
  • 2009 NFL Draft: 12 players, 1 active with the Patriots. Safety Patrick Chung is the only player still on the Patriots active roster, while Julian Edelman is on the injured reserve. Darius Butler is a cornerback for the Colts and Brandon Tate is a receiver and returnman for the Bills.
  • 2010 NFL Draft: 12 players, 2 active with the Patriots. Defensive captain Devin McCourty and offensive captain Rob Gronkowski are the only two players left on the team. Sixth round lineman Ted Larsen is still in the league with the Dolphins.
  • 2011 NFL Draft: 9 players, 2 active with the Patriots. Offensive tackles Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon were from this draft class. Running backs Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, quarterback Ryan Mallett, and tight end Lee Smith are all still in the league, too.
  • 2012 NFL Draft: 7 players, 1 active with the Patriots. Special teamer Nate Ebner is the only player still active with the Patriots from this draft since Linebacker Dont’a Hightower is expected to be placed on the injured reserve any day now. Edge defender Chandler Jones and safety Tavon Wilson are in the league, too.
  • 2013 NFL Draft: 7 players, 1 active with the Patriots. Defensive captain Duron Harmon is the last man standing from this class while linebacker Jamie Collins, receiver Aaron Dobson, cornerback Logan Ryan, and receiver Josh Boyce are with new teams.
  • 2014 NFL Draft: 9 players, 2 active with the Patriots. Running back James White and offensive tackle Cameron Fleming are still with the Patriots, but the team’s first three draft picks- defensive lineman Dominique Easley, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, and center Bryan Stork- are all gone.
  • 2015 NFL Draft: 11 players, 6 active with the Patriots. DT Malcom Brown, SS Jordan Richards, DL Geneo Grissom, EDGE Trey Flowers, RG Shaq Mason, and LS Joe Cardona are still big parts of the Patriots strategy.
  • 2016 NFL Draft: 9 players, 3 active with the Patriots. LG Joe Thuney, LB Elandon Roberts, and OG Ted Karras remain, while CB Cyrus Jones, DT Vincent Valentine, and WR Malcolm Mitchell are on the injured reserve.
  • 2017 NFL Draft: 4 players, 1 active with the Patriots. EDGE Deatrich Wise is the only one that remains active, while EDGE Derek Rivers and OT Antonio Garcia are on the reserves with ailments and OT Conor McDermott is no longer with the team.

So the Patriots have 10 players from their first seven drafts and 10 players from their most recent three. There are also seven players on the reserves in Edelman, Hightower, Jones, Valentine, Mitchell, Rivers, and Garcia. That’s enough for roughly half of a 53-man roster.

It’s important to look at a few different factors when evaluating draft classes.

First, don’t give up on a player too quickly. What if the frustration surrounding Logan Ryan after his rocky first two seasons was all we saw of his development? Ryan became a two-year starter and a high quality player by the end. So while it’s easy to say the Patriots don’t have many contributors from the past two draft classes, they all deserve a little more time, especially with five of the past 13 draft picks dealing with an injury forcing them to the reserves.

Second, how many players actually do emerge as contributors while on their rookie contracts? The 2015 draft class looks like a winner with Brown, Flowers, and Mason becoming big time starters and with Richards, Grissom, and Cardona adding value on special teams. It seems like every Patriots draft class comes with a pair of starters and a pair of rotational or special teams players and it’s important to supplement the big contract players with quality contributors on rookie deals.

But players need to step up over the course of their rookie deal to earn a second contract with the Patriots or in the league. And that brings me to the third factor: how many players are deserving of a second contract? The 2015 class looks like a knockout for the Patriots, while White already signed his extension with the Patriots.

It is ideal to get two or three extensions out of every draft class and the Patriots are still on that pace with White and hopefully Brown, Flowers, Mason, and Cardona. The strength of the 2015 class allowed the Patriots to move on from some of their talent in the 2014 class without mortgaging the future of the team.

Add in some incredible undrafted free agent classes with Ryan Allen (2013), Malcolm Butler (2014), David Andrews (2015), Brandon King (2015), Jonathan Jones (2016), and more, and the Patriots are doing a great job building and retaining talent through youthful movements.

Now the 2016 and 2017 classes have a lot of questions due to their injuries, but Thuney, Valentine, Mitchell, Roberts, Karras, and Wise have already shown value, along with rookie undrafted defensive lineman Adam Butler, and Cyrus Jones, Rivers, and Garcia will start fresh again next year. There is a pipeline of talent in place.

The Patriots will be fine even if Harmon and Allen and White are the only players to stick around from their 2013 and 2014 rookie classes, and retaining Malcolm Butler would provide a huge boost of value.

So while it’s unfortunate that there aren’t too many players left on the Patriots from those years, the 2015 draft class allowed New England to be more aggressive in free agency this offseason and to feel comfortable moving forward and away from their earlier draft classes.