With the first round of the NFL Draft only two days away, our friends over at Blogging the Boys published a story asking what would have happened had the Dallas Cowboys listened to ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay instead of their own scouts. The idea is a pretty neat one, and one that got us thinking: What would the results look like when compared to the New England Patriots?
You probably know where this is going, so without further ado, let’s take a look at the last 10 drafts to see who made the better choices with the power of hindsight. Of course, the Patriots won three Super Bowls over that span, so they probably cannot complain even if Kiper Jr. and McShay might have made a better pick here or there.
Patriots picks: DE Chandler Jones, LB Dont’a Hightower. The Patriots were unusually aggressive in the first round in 2012, moving up the board twice to pick Jones and Hightower. Both selections worked out well. Jones was traded to Arizona after three years, but he still helped New England win a Super Bowl; Hightower earned the nickname Mr. February after a series of clutch performances and three championship rings earned.
Kiper Jr.’s picks: DE Courtney Upshaw, S Harrison Smith. Upshaw was pretty average as a first-round pick by Baltimore and would not have been an upgrade over Jones. Smith, meanwhile, became one of the better safeties of his generation and has appeared in 151 games for the Minnesota Vikings.
McShay’s picks: DE Courtney Upshaw, S Harrison Smith. Kiper Jr. and McShay saw the same two players come to New England in their final mocks of 2012. The Patriots had different plans, and they worked out just fine.
Patriots pick: N/A. The Patriots never made a pick at No. 29, instead trading down and ending up with linebacker Jamie Collins as their first selection in Round 2. That trade also led to the acquisitions of cornerback Logan Ryan and running back LeGarrette Blount. It was a good one.
Kiper Jr.’s pick: CB Desmond Trufant. While he is a journeyman free agent nowadays, Trufant played some quality football after entering the league 22nd overall in 2013. In total, he has played 116 games.
McShay’s pick: CB Xavier Rhodes. Trufant has been quite solid, but still not as successful as Rhodes. A three-time Pro Bowler for the Minnesota Vikings, he appeared in 109 games for the team before leaving for Indianapolis.
Patriots pick: DT Dominique Easley. Arguably the biggest first-round bust of the Bill Belichick era, Easley appeared in 22 games over two seasons before his release. He later spent time with the Los Angeles Rams and has since retired.
Kiper Jr.’s pick: S Calvin Pryor. Just like Easley, Pryor also turned into a bust. Selected 18th overall by the New York Jets, he played 44 games for the team in three seasons before getting traded to Cleveland. He too is retired now.
McShay’s pick: DL Stephon Tuitt. Needless to say that McShay’s pick worked out best. Despite missing all of 2021 due to injury, Tuitt has appeared in 99 career games since the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted him in the second round in 2014.
Patriots pick: DT Malcom Brown. While he never developed into the next Vince Wilfork, Brown was a solid presence along the Patriots’ interior defensive line after he was drafted 32nd overall in 2015. He appeared in 71 games over four seasons and helped the team win two Super Bowls.
Kiper Jr.’s pick: OL Cedric Ogbuehi. Ogbuehi went off the board 21st overall, but he has disappointed. The former Bengal is currently on his sixth team since joining the league.
McShay’s pick: DT Eddie Goldman. Selected seven spots after Brown, Goldman developed into a very good player for the Chicago Bears. Six seasons into his career, he has played 82 games for the club.
With the first four years of comparisons in the books, time for a short intermezzo. The Patriots, after all, did not have any first-round picks in both 2016 and 2017: the 2016 selection was forfeited due to the organization’s alleged role in the Deflategate scandal, while the 2017 pick was sent to New Orleans in mid-March of that year to acquire wide receiver Brandin Cooks via trade.
Accordingly, neither Kiper Jr. nor McShay made selections for New England in those years. We are therefore skipping them and heading straight to 2018, when the Patriots were scheduled to make not one but two picks on Day 1.
Patriots pick: OT Isaiah Wynn, RB Sony Michel. Wynn is the Patriots’ current starting left tackle but his future with the team beyond 2022 is in question. Michel, meanwhile, helped New England win a Super Bowl as a rookie but was since traded to Los Angeles.
Kiper Jr.’s pick: OT Kolton Miller, CB Josh Jackson. Miller ended up with the Raiders as the 15th overall selection that year and developed into a solid starting tackle. Jackson ended up dropping to the second round; he is a free agent after unsuccessful stints in Green Bay, New York and Kansas City.
McShay’s pick: QB Lamar Jackson, OT Kolton Miller. Jackson has been a very good pickup by the Baltimore Ravens, and is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the game today. With Tom Brady still on the roster at that time, New England went in another direction in Round 1 that year.
Patriots pick: WR N’Keal Harry. A swing and a miss. The Patriots used the final pick of the first round in 2019 to draft Arizona State wideout N’Keal Harry, who has not lived up to expectations and appears to be on his way out.
Kiper Jr.’s pick: DE Clelin Ferrell. While the Harry pick turned out to be a bad one, it pales in comparison to Ferrell. The Las Vegas Raiders picked him fourth overall, and he has so far registered just eight total sacks in three seasons.
McShay’s pick: S Darnell Savage. Savage went 21st overall to Green Bay and has been a starter-level player for the team ever since. He was a solid pick that also would have fit in well in New England. Alas, he was long gone when the team was on the clock.
Patriots pick: N/A. The Patriots were originally scheduled to draft 23rd overall, but they ended up trading that selection to the Los Angeles Chargers. New England’s first pick was safety Kyle Dugger in the second round.
Kiper Jr.’s pick: OL Cesar Ruiz. With left guard Joe Thuney on a contract year, Kiper Jr. predicted the Patriots to pick Cesar Ruiz. He eventually went to New Orleans and is a starter along the interior.
McShay’s pick: DE A.J. Epenesa. Epenesa did end up in the AFC East, but it was the Buffalo Bills that drafted him — on Day 2. He has registered 2.5 sacks in 35 career games.
Patriots pick: QB Mac Jones. One season in is far too soon to properly evaluate the success of a draft pick, but it sure seems as if the Patriots struck gold when they picked Mac Jones 15th overall last spring. The Alabama product won the starting gig as a rookie and never looked back.
Kiper Jr.’s pick: QB Trey Lance. With Mac Jones going third overall to San Francisco in this projection, the Patriots traded up the board to pick Trey Lance. The North Dakota State product ended up as a 49er, but spent most of his rookie year on the sidelines.
McShay’s pick: QB Mac Jones. It took him 10 years, but McShay finally predicted a Patriots selection correctly — something Kiper Jr. cannot say.
So, what does all of this tell us? Not a whole lot, quite frankly. However, it illustrates that even the most experienced draft experts and analysts have no clue what is really happening inside the Patriots’ war room. They may have a feel for needs and players capable of filling them — and of making some good picks — but there is big difference between theoretical projection and what is transpiring once the draft gets underway.
Kiper Jr. and McShay will release their final mock drafts of this pre-draft cycle on Thursday. And if their track record is any indication, you can probably eliminate their New England selections as realistic targets for the club.