The build up for next week’s 2018 NFL Draft has been as hyperbolic and grandiose as the mega-stadium with which it is being held — and for good reason. There is seemingly no end the multitude of tantalizing narratives surrounding this year’s class, and the 32 teams who will be vying for its services.
Perhaps no team has more of these alluring story lines than New England. With five of the draft’s first 95 selections at the disposal of an organization trying desperately to find balance between sustaining current success and building for the future, the possibilities are endless.
However, a critical aspect of this draft that has been somewhat glossed over is the large gap between the team’s 95th and 198th selection. It’s quite rare. In fact, this 103-pick gap would be tied for the fourth largest of its kind under Bill Belichick.
It boils down to how Bill feels about certain pockets of his draft board, and how they correlate with whatever slate of draft resources he has available at that given moment. As players fly off the board and the needs of teams change, as does Bill’s evaluation of how much “skin” he needs in certain parts of “the game”.
With that in mind, let’s examine the context behind the four largest draft board gaps of the Belichick tenure.
Poised to build on a 12-4 campaign that came up just short with a crushing AFC Championship game loss in Indianapolis, Bill Belichick headed into the 2007 offseason with a bevy of draft capital. After trading Deion Branch to Seattle the September prior, he possessed the draft’s 24th and 28th overall selections.
In the first week of March, he shipped their second and seventh round picks to Miami for Wes Welker. On draft day, after selecting safety Brandon Meriweather, Trader Bill really came alive. He traded the 28th overall pick to San Francisco for a fourth-rounder (110th overall) and 2008 first-rounder. Later in the day, he sent the team’s third round selection to Oakland, acquiring another 2007 seventh-rounder and a 2008 third-round pick.
The next day, on April 29th, 2007, Bill made another call to the Raiders’ front office. The 110th pick, which Bill had acquired from San Francisco not even 24 hours prior, was on its way to Oakland. In return, the Patriots received Randy Moss.
The 103-pick gap between Brandon Meriweather (24th overall) and fourth-round selection Kareem Brown (127th overall), a defensive tackle out of the University of Miami, was the fourth largest in the Belichick era.
After allowing Eli Manning to complete 75% of his passes for nearly 300 yards and creating no turnovers in another Super Bowl loss to the Giants, Bill Belichick set out to transform what had been the worst defense in his tenure.
After acquiring New Orleans’ first round pick during a draft day trade in 2011, New England went into the 2012 draft with the 27th and 31st overall selections, as well as an additional second round pick (48th overall) which was acquired from Oakland in 2011. Just about the only gap on their board was in the fifth round, as their 166th overall selection had been sent to Cincinnati, along with a 2013 sixth-rounder, during 2011 training camp for wide receiver Chad Ochocinco.
On draft day, Belichick aggressively targeted and pursued defensive personnel that he identified as cornerstone-type players. He sent the 27th and 93rd picks to the Bengals and took Syracuse edge defender Chandler Jones at 21. Shortly after, he sent picks 31 and 126 to Denver and selected Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower.
After Illinois safety Tavon Wilson was selected with the second round pick acquired from Oakland, Bill executed two trades with Green Bay, resulting in a swapping of third round picks (62 for 90), the Patriots receiving a sixth-rounder, and two seventh-rounders — the draft’s 197th, 224th, and 235th overall selections.
The Patriots selected (and missed on) Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette at 90, and they wouldn’t make another selection until taking Ohio State Safety Nate Ebner at 197. The 107-pick gap was the team’s third largest under Bill Belichick.
Following the organization’s first Super Bowl championship season, the Patriots headed into the 2002 draft with their full slate of picks, with the exception of their sixth-rounder, which was sent to Saint Louis in 2000 for wide receiver Dane Looker. They also had an additional fourth-rounder (126th overall) acquired from Green Bay for Terry Glenn, and Jacksonville’s fifth round selection (144th overall), which they received in a draft day trade the year prior.
On draft day, New England traded up in the first round with Washington to select tight end Daniel Graham at 21 — a surprising move in hindsight, as Miami safety Ed Reed, a Belichick press conference favorite in the decade to come, was on the board. The trade left the Patriots without their third round selection (96th overall).
The following day, Drew Bledsoe was dispatched to Buffalo in exchange for their 2003 first round pick, leaving a large hole on the depth chart behind incumbent starter Tom Brady. Having already spent the 65th overall selection on Louisville wide receiver Deion Branch, Trader Bill sent the Denver Broncos his original fourth-rounder (131st overall) and the fifth round pick acquired from Jacksonville in 2001 (144th overall), allowing him to move up in the fourth round to secure what he perceived as the best quarterback available. With the draft’s 117th overall selection, the Patriots took LSU quarterback Rohan Davey.
After taking a second straight LSU Tiger, defensive end Jarvis Green, with the 126th pick, Bill appeared content with his haul. He sent Dallas the Patriots’ original fifth round pick (168th overall) to the rebuilding Dallas Cowboys for their seventh round selection (237th), and a 2003 fifth round pick.
The Patriots wouldn’t select another player until that 237th pick that they received from Dallas, taking Virginia running back Antwoine Womack. They would round out their draft by selecting Notre Dame wide receive David Givens 16 picks later. The 111-player gap between Green and Womack remains the second largest such gap since Belichick’s arrival in 2000.
Not only do the 124 picks between fourth round selection Josh Boyce and seventh round pick Michael Buchanan represent the largest selection-void in any of Bill Belichick’s 17 drafts for the Patriots, but that gap is the only one on this list that existed prior to the draft, and not primarily as a result of transactions executed within it.
Belichick entered the 2013 draft having already traded the Patriots’ fourth, fifth, and sixth round selections (126th, 162nd, and 197th overall). Pick 126 was sent to Tampa Bay the previous November for Aqib Talib. Pick 162 was sent to Washington for Albert Haynesworth in July of 2011, and on the same day, pick 197 was included in the Chad Ochocinco trade. This left the Patriots with just three selections in the first 91 picks to go with a pair of seventh-rounders — a situation Belichick was committed to remedying.
When the Vikings came calling at the end of the first round, Belichick made it hurt. For the 28th pick, the Patriots acquired 52, 83, 102, and 229, resulting in Jamie Collins, Logan Ryan, and the aforementioned Boyce. Belichick also packaged the 229th pick with running back Jeff Demps and acquired LeGarrette Blount from Tampa.
Naturally, a team’s annual draft results are subject to vast array of unique complexities — each season’s haul dependent not only on the current state of the organization’s personnel and draft resources, but also by their analysis of the player pool as a whole, and their ability to adapt to the flurry of new information that pours as the draft unfolds. Over the past 17 seasons, you could argue that no team has executed in this frantic environment more effectively than New England.
While the direction Bill Belichick takes the Patriots this year certainly depends on that final draft class evaluation (a process that the proverbial curtain has yet to, and likely will never be, fully pulled back on), undoubtedly next week’s thrills will come from watching the game’s greatest mind navigate his way through this draft — with all of its intricacies and ramifications — to find that harmony between win now and plan for the future.
There is a nervous excitement — a tension that is admittedly a bit different than each of the Belichick drafts that have come and gone. The hope, of course, is that many of the questions regarding the team’s short and long term directions will be answered by the end of next Sunday.
But which questions will take their place?
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