If you look at the first two selections made that year, the 2019 NFL Draft has been a pretty bad one for the New England Patriots. Neither first-round wide receiver N’Keal Harry nor second-round cornerback Joejuan Williams have justified the investment so far; their contributions over the last three seasons have been minimal at best.
Harry and Williams appear to be on their way out of New England after three disappointing years, and conversations about the team’s 2019 draft class will always start with those two. However, the rest of the group has actually performed quite well.
That is part of the reason why the Patriots have actually been one of the best drafting teams in the NFL over the last three years.
A recent analysis of draft success puts New England near the top of the league in the wins above replacement (WAR) category. The author, Pro Football Focus’ Timo Riske, explained the methodology as follows:
Essentially, each draft position is assigned a value in the form of the distribution of PFF WAR gained in the first four years by players drafted at that draft position, and the success of each draft pick is measured by looking at the percentile of the distribution the player falls into.
For example, Indianapolis Colts guard Quenton Nelson generated 1.79 WAR through his first four years. Compared to the four-year WAR of all draft picks since 2006, that’s better than 98% of all non-quarterbacks selected at No. 6 overall. Therefore, the Colts made a 98th-percentile draft pick by selecting him.
With that in mind, the Patriots have been able to generate some pretty decent results over the last three drafts. They have had their misses, with N’Keal Harry and Joejuan Williams among them, but for every one of those the team also found some diamonds in the rough or players who outperformed based on where they were drafted.
In 2019, for example, running back Damien Harris (3-87) and punter Jake Bailey (5-163) come to mind. The following year, offensive lineman Michael Onwenu (6-182) stands out. All of these players have played prominent roles since joining the team: they are in better percentiles than some of the other players added by New England the last three years.
As a result, they also help improve New England’s WAR score relative to draft position. In fact, the Patriots are ranked third in that category, in large part due to one player: quarterback Mac Jones.
Jones was selected 15th overall by the Patriots last year, and he played on a high level as a rookie. While he did have the ups and downs that are only natural at the position and in an offense as challenging as New England’s, the Alabama product proved himself a difference maker for his team in 2021.
Given the importance of the quarterback position, the statement “the Patriots have been pretty decent at adding value via the draft as of late” obviously hinges on his success. It is also why the team has seen some significant production from players on rookie deals. Jones obviously leads the way but others such as safety Kyle Dugger (2020, 2-37) and defensive tackle Christian Barmore (2021, 2-38) have also contributed.
As the following graphic shared by PFF’s Arjun Menon shows, the Patriots are near the top of the NFL in total WAR gained by non-quarterbacks:
Obviously, excluding Mac Jones from the equation pushes the Patriots down a notch — he has been pretty good, after all. That said, other players selected since 2019 still have had a considerable positive impact on the team thus far: players such as Damien Harris, Kyle Dugger and Christian Barmore are responsible for this ranking.
New England built its dynasty of the early 2000s on solid drafting and savvy free agency and trade moves. Whether or not the team can do the same during the first few years of the Mac Jones era has yet to be determined, but at least the early draft results are encouraging.
Jones, Dugger and Barmore in particular look like cornerstone players. Now it’s about getting more out of others on their rookie deals — linebacker Josh Uche comes to mind — and continuing the recent trend of finding good value.