DT Dominique Easley. QB Jimmy Garoppolo. DT Malcom Brown. SS Jordan Richards. EDGE Geneo Grissom. CB Cyrus Jones. OG Joe Thuney. QB Jacoby Brissett. DT Vincent Valentine.
These players represent the New England Patriots draft picks in the first three rounds of the 2014, 2015, and 2016 NFL drafts. They also represent a dearth of talent not seen in a stretch of Patriots drafts in nearly a decade.
Easley is no longer with the team. Garoppolo and Brissett are back-ups at differing levels; Garoppolo looks like a million dollars, while Brissett looks more like Ryan Mallett, lacking touch on some of the more routine throws. Richards, Grissom, and Jones have been non-factors and after their performance in week 1 of the preseason against the Jacksonville Jaguars, they are active detriments to the success of the team.
Brown and Valentine are part of the defensive tackle rotation, while Thuney is entrenched at left guard. But that’s it. Nine selections and just three players that the Patriots can expect to contribute on Sunday (and that’s being generous to Valentine at this point).
The last time the Patriots did such a poor job of drafting came from 2006-08, when the Patriots made eight selections and left with Jerod Mayo, Brandon Meriweather, and Laurence Maroney as the top contributors. Other players included David Thomas, Chad Jackson, Terrence Wheatley, Shawn Crable, and Kevin O’Connell. It was bad. Really bad.
That stretch of poor drafting had a major impact on the Patriots as their aging veterans were set to retire around the 2009-10 seasons. It’s hard to say that the Patriots really “struggled” but it’s clear that the 2009 Patriots roster was one of the weakest of the Bill Belichick era and that poor drafting played a big factor and it took a herculean series of drafts from 2009-13 to get the Patriots back on top.
Whether due to the rising salary cap or just an improved sense of roster construction, the Patriots aren’t in the same position as they were in 2009 when they moved on from Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour, and Ellis Hobbs all in one summer. LT Nate Solder and CB Malcolm Butler are the only two starters expected to enter free agency in 2018.
But we’ve seen the turnover at the edge defender position with Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long, and Jabaal Sheard all leaving; the Patriots will hope that Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy, Derek Rivers, and Deatrich Wise can generate a base level of pressure. We’re seeing the safety duo of Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung slip past the age of 30. We can acknowledge that Tom Brady and Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski might only have a couple good years left.
And that’s why the lack of early round impact players could come back to haunt the Patriots. First round picks are supposed to be slam dunks and second round picks are supposed to be solid contributors. Those are supposed to be the easy picks and the Patriots aren’t getting the results they had hoped.
The Patriots have been winning because they’re incredible at signing free agents, do a great job at finding and developing undrafted players, and win the majority of their trades; these positive traits won’t be going away any time soon. Missing in the draft just makes the job more difficult than it needs to be.
Everything can change in the span of a draft. WR Brandin Cooks could be considered the win of the 2017 draft as a cornerstone piece of the Patriots offense. The Patriots could crush the 2018 NFL Draft and find the quality safety they’ve been looking to draft since Rodney Harrison, along with the three-down linebacker to pair with Dont’a Hightower.
But if the Patriots don’t break out of their drafting rut- and soon- then New England might have a failure of a season where they only manage to reach the wild card round of the playoffs. And that would just be miserable.