As the NFL Draft approaches you will hear a common refrain among analysts and experts and that is Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are draft savvy. They will tell you the “Patriot Way” should be emulated throughout the league. This, of course, is hyperbole run-amuck and is based more on perception and the unforeseen success of Tom Brady than actual draft day results. The list of missed opportunities far outweighs the list of success stories which is often typical, but then again, when Mel Kiper and the gang put you on a pedestal, the criticism comes more easily.
It is no secret that the Patriots have a sordid history drafting wide receivers and defensive backs which often leaves Brady throwing to street vendors and the defense getting gutted like the Christmas goose.
Some of their greatest hits include the “I-can’t-even-remember” Garrett Mills and Brock Williams. The always a few seconds late to the ball crew of Eugene Wilson, Ellis Hobbs, Terrence Wheatley, Jonathan Wilhite and Darius Butler.
Then there’s the bench warmers Taylor Price, Ras-I Dowling, Bethel Johnson and Chad Jackson and the uncontrollable tandem of Brandon Meriweather and Pat Chung. Chung somehow managed to make his way back to the team because he comes cheap and that above all else is the true “Patriot Way.” More recently there is Aaron Dobson, so talented his nickname is “Dropson,” because dropping the ball appears to be what he does best.
These things happen and everyone makes mistakes, but when you look at the players Belichick, — oft labeled a “genius” — could have drafted, it makes you wince and wonder what might’ve been.
The “Patriot Way” left Ed Reed, Larry Foote, Anquan Boldin, Darnell Docket, Shaun Phillips, Jared Allan, Santonio Holmes, Bernard Pollard, Owen Daniels, Brandon Marshall, LeSean McCoy, Mike Wallace, T.Y. Hilton and Keenan Allen on the board. Instead, the team with the master plan selected Marquise Hill, Guss Scott, Dexter Reid, David Thomas and Jake Bequette. All future management team members of your local Walmart I’m sure, while some of the might-have-beens are Super Bowl champions. It’s downright Bella Swan depressing.
This is not to belittle or deride Belichick or the Patriots. It’s just a friendly reminder that as draft time approaches, we would all be better served if we looked at things more objectively instead of pronouncing someone a miracle worker because he traded down in the draft for the umpteenth time to select a defensive back that will be released in two years.
The Patriots have not outsmarted the system; they’ve been able to get lucky and fill necessary holes through free agency as they have this season by acquiring Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. However, one could argue they only needed to make those moves because of draft failures Tavon Wilson and Alfonso Dennard.
It is easy to play armchair General Manager, but the sample size speaks for itself and so do the brutal playoff exits over the last decade. Brady has been the one constant piece in the puzzle, but outside of the Randy Moss years, Belichick has left him high and dry at wide receiver, because he is completely unable to evaluate them and the Patriots are unwilling to pay anyone. This does Brady no favors as Belichick’s hand-picked defensive backs surrender yards like its flag football which means Brady has to go score points with guys that shouldn’t be trusted with a potato gun.
The Patriots are just like everyone else when it comes to the draft, flawed prognosticators who unfortunately don’t deserve the praise surrounding their draft selections. The “Patriot Way” is the mythical unicorn, it was never real and it is time to reevaluate the Patriots’ ability to draft quality players, especially given the absence of Super Bowl victories in the last 10 years.
So when draft day arrives, stay calm, maintain a level head and keep the hyperbole to a minimum, but feel free to scream, holler and throw things at the TV when they decide to trade down and miss the opportunity to draft a future Hall of Famer.