UPDATE: I’m bumping this back up now that Ja’Whaun Bentley is on the injured reserve. Of the Patriots nine draft picks in 2018, six are on the injured reserve (Isaiah Wynn, Duke Dawson, Bentley, Christian Sam, Braxton Berrios, Ryan Izzo). One is on the practice squad (Danny Etling). That leaves Sony Michel (knee) and Keion Crossen (hamstring) as the two remaining on the active roster, and they’ve been dealing with injuries of their own.
Both of the New England Patriots first round selections in this most recent are injured, with tackle Isaiah Wynn out for the year with a torn Achilles and running back Sony Michel battling a knee injury. These injuries could be chalked up to bad luck, but it follows a stretch of bad injuries by Patriots draft picks- and some that the Patriots could have foreseen.
Michel, for instance, battled a series of injuries in college that raised medical flags for teams and his knees were known as a potential issue.
The Patriots have often drafted players with an injury history because that’s generally the only way a blue chip player can fall to them in the draft, and sometimes it works. That’s how they’ve ended up with Rob Gronkowski (back) and Sebastian Vollmer (back) and Dont’a Hightower (knee) and Chandler Jones (knee/leg), although all battled series of injuries while with the Patriots.
When those players are healthy, they’re great. But it’s hard to rely on their availability on a year-to-year basis.
And when they aren’t ever available, you have a Ras-I Dowling (lower body) or a Dominique Easley (knees) and they’re considered among the worst draft selections in franchise history.
Then there are other good players that slid into the middle rounds because of their injuries. They’re expected to be solid players if they’re healthy and if they’re available in the third, fourth, or fifth rounds, then even a mediocre starter is considered exceeding draft expectations.
Again, some of these selections work out in the long run, like Marcus Cannon (cancer), or as one-season-wonders like Bryan Stork (concussions) and Malcolm Mitchell (knees). And then others fail to pan out, like Brandon Tate (ACL) and Tre Jackson (knee).
The jury remains out on Vincent Valentine (ankle), Deatrich Wise (hand/shoulder), Ja’Whaun Bentley (ACL), and Michel (knees) and this doesn’t include players that suffered injuries once they reached the NFL, like Trey Flowers, Cyrus Jones, Derek Rivers, Antonio Garcia, and now Wynn.
All of these players had injury histories as they entered the draft that allowed them to fall into the Patriots’ draft range, so Bill Belichick and company were clearly weighing the risk versus the reward.
If we evaluate the rewards, do Vollmer, Gronkowski, Cannon, Jones, and Hightower, along with single-seasons of Mitchell and Stork outweigh the misses with Easley, Dowling, Tate, and Jackson?
I’d argue yes because while the Dowling and Easley misses were big and the Patriots really should evaluate their injury evaluation processes because there’s always room for improvement, Vollmer, Gronkowski, Cannon, Jones, and Hightower were integral to bringing two Super Bowl titles and years of contention to New England.
And most of the misses came in the third or fourth rounds where getting a season or two of good play is the average expectation, so it’s worth taking a home run when you could just as easily add a player on the veteran minimum to hedge your bet.
In other words, the Patriots are one of a few teams that bolsters the “middle class” of their roster and always have a cheap veteran that can play at the replacement level. This allows the team to take risks in the middle rounds and cut ties quickly if the picks don’t work- there will always be someone good enough as back-up.
But it’s really unfortunate to see Wynn suffer a season-ending injury and the team’s track record of health over the past five years of draft picks is abysmal. Just 9 of their 22 players selected in the first four rounds, have stayed healthy-ish and that’s including rookie Duke Dawson and back-of-the-roster players like Jordan Richards and Geneo Grissom.
Even the quarterbacks like Jimmy Garoppolo (shoulder) and Jacoby Brissett (thumb) were hurt enough to miss extended time.
It’s hard for the Patriots to avoid some of these injuries and I’m certainly not trying to blame the team for any of them. But it’s totally valid for fans to feel like every other Patriots draft pick ends up on the injured reserve- because literally half of their top draft picks do end up on the reserves.