Anyone who’s read Jerry Thornton’s “From Darkness to Dynasty” (and if you haven’t, it’ll make you want to read for fun again) knows that back before Robert Kraft bought the New England Patriots in 1994, the Pats had their fair share of luck in the NFL Draft.
Luck, of course, meaning “Even a broken clock is right twice a day”. Hey, I didn’t say which kind of luck we were talking about here.
There were some picks that turned out nothing short of spectacular, like 10-time All-Pro and Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman John Hannah, Hall of Fame linebacker Andre Tippett, running back Curtis Martin (also in the Hall of Fame), and franchise quarterback Drew Bledsoe and outside linebacker (EDGE defender!) Willie McGinest.
There were also some spectacular, Tony-Hawk-Pro-Skater-jump-off-the-roof-and-miss-the-rail faceplants, even after Bill Belichick got to town. Shocking, I know. Yes, Bill makes mistakes too. Sometimes the dice just come up snake eyes, even for a master-class dealer like Belichick.
ESPN’s NFL crew are killing time between now and the draft just like the rest of us, so on Thursday, they had a 32-writer round table to pick every NFL team’s worst draft bust of all time. Honestly, it’s fascinating stuff, because some teams have been around long enough to have almost 80 years worth of drafts to choose their most facepalm-worthy failure from, and others, like the Houston Texans or Jacksonville Jaguars, only have 15 or 20-something years - and there’s still no shortage of draft picks that turned out to be complete nightmares.
Let’s get to it, then - who did ESPN’s Mike Reiss, the lead Patriots writer for ESPN Boston, pick as the worst Patriots draft bust of all time?
And keep in mind, these are some of the picks from other franchises that you’ll surely remember off the top of your head, and definitely in a “Well, better them than us!” way:
-The Oakland Raiders, who really could’ve had anyone from most of their top picks from 2000 onward make this list, went with quarterback JaMarcus Russell.
-The Green Bay Packers and their thousands of share-holding owners (condescension intended) will forever rue the day they drafted Captain ‘Roid Rage, Tony Mandarich.
-The Cincinnati Bengals, who as of late have drafted BAMFs like AJ Green and Tyler Eifert in the first round, still have to own the shame of drafting Oregon quarterback Akili Smith third overall in 1999.
So Reiss did the math and came up with this first-round draft disaster - and it honestly wasn’t someone I even remember being with the Patriots at all. This makes sense in hindsight for 2 reasons:
- He only played in New England for 2 years, and
- He shares a name with a much more successful (relatively speaking) former Giants, Cowboys, and Ravens defensive lineman.
Congratulations if you’ve guessed it by now - the all-time Patriots draft bust is cornerback Chris Canty, a 5’9’’, 185-lb All-American from Kansas State that the Patriots took at 29th overall in 1997. Here’s my personal favorite part of Reiss recounting of Canty’s miserable two seasons in New England:
“Patriots Hall of Famer Troy Brown once shared the story that he was told to ease up on Canty in practice.”
When your life is getting ruined in practice by a 5’10’’ wide receiver that had caught 21 passes for 222 yards in 1996, you’re going to have a bad time.
After the Patriots let Canty go after the 1998 season, he spent a season in Seattle and then split time between New Orleans and Seattle in 2000 before ending up in the Arena Football League for a few years. Yikes.
What’s particularly interesting about Mike’s pick of Chris Canty is that even though most people tend to think of the Patriots as two separate teams - pre-Belichick and the Belichick Era™- there’s still plenty of dudes that are in STRONG contention despite Bill Belichick spending precious high-round picks on them.
The most recent example is defensive lineman Dominique Easley, a fellow 29th overall pick that only lasted two seasons before his trash attitude and blatant disregard for the team’s rules got him cut in the spring of 2016. There was wide receiver Aaron Dobson, who could run a 4.42 40 and jump 35 inches flat-footed and got drafted in the second round in 2013, but never could build off his decent rookie season and eventually got sent packing during final roster cuts in 2016.
Another one Patriots fans love to rag on (and with good reason) is cornerback Ras-I Dowling. Dude got drafted 33rd overall by New England in 2011, ended up on Injured Reserve in both the 2011 and 2012 seasons, and the guy who would unfortunately come to be known as Ras-IR (get it?) got released before the 2013 season started.
Going back a little further, the Boston Globe also recently ran down a Top-10 list of All-Time Patriots Draft Busts, and their top 5 included receiver Hart Lee Dykes (1st round, 16th overall, 1989), linebacker Chris Singleton (8th overall, 1990), defensive end Kenneth Sims (1st OVERALL, 1982), two-way lineman Phil Olsen, whose brother Merlin Olsen is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (4th overall, 1970). The Globe rounds out their top-5 (or bottom-5, as it were) with defensive end Dennis Byrd, the 6th overall pick in 1968, who made it one season with the Patriots before getting cut.
One more for the road - checking in at #6 on the Globe’s list is a name younger Patriots fans may remember well. New England traded up in the 2006 draft to pick up wide receiver Chad Jackson, who caught a rocking 13 passes before the Patriots cut him right before his third season.
That’s pretty terrible, by any standard. Even the present-day Browns would look at that and wince. But here’s the real kick in the nuts:
The Patriots traded up for Jackson when future Green Bay star receiver Greg Jennings, Bengals 3-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth, the best returner of all time Devin Hester, and brutal running back Maurice Jones-Drew were all still on the board - and that’s just a cherry-picked list of guys who were still available in the 2nd round.
What do you guys think? Did Reiss hit the nail on the head with Chris Canty as New England’s worst draft bust ever? Or does that dubious honor go to someone else?