The Myth of the New England Patriots' Trading Down NFL Draft Strategy

By Willis Patenaude
New England Patriots
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You can sense the inevitability of the moment when the New England Patriots trade down from the No. 29 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft and the so-called experts hail it as a masterstroke of brilliance. It’s no secret the Patriots have employed this strategy for years and Bill Belichick, its architect, has been lauded as a genius, but this is a steaming pile of crapola.

It’s a myth, like fairy tales. In reality, it’s a Monet and when viewed through the prism of objectivity, the truth is unforgiving.

One of the most talked about aspects of the strategy is that it allows the team to gain additional picks, presumably to add depth to the roster.

Here are the highlights of the Patriots’ late-round draft picks used to improve depth. Julian Edelman and Stephen Gostkowski and that’s it, unless you include Lee Smith, Ted Larsen, Bo Ruud and Steve Beauharnais. This makes Matt Millen look like a draft god!

In terms of all the dealing, in 2001 it led to Kenyatta Jones and Rohan Davey, while Kendrell Bell went to the Pittsburgh Steelers. 2003 yielded Kliff Kingsbury and Ethan Kelly, and in 2004 the Patriots took it easy and still managed to blow their second and third-round picks on Marquise Hill and Guss Scott, who combined for two starts while with the team.

In fact, the Patriots have a long history of blowing their second and third-round picks, drafting value guys and gas station clerks like Terrence Wheatley, Tavon Wilson, Jermaine Cunningham, Ras-I Dowling, Tyrone Mackenzie, David Thomas, Taylor Price and Jake Bequette.

In 2005, they laid the groundwork for 18-1, trading the 64th pick passing up Frank Gore and Justin Tuck in favor of Ellis Hobbs with the 84th selection. It’s the same Hobbs who was beaten on a grade school move in Super Bowl XLII by a guy who would later shoot himself in the leg.

The real genius starts in 2006 which proved the Patriots can’t trade up either and should have people questioning their draft evaluation system. They took Laurence Maroney with the 21th pick and later traded up 16 spots with the Green Bay Packers, giving them a second and third-round pick. They drafted the immortal Chad Jackson while the Packers took Greg Jennings.

In 2007, they missed with their own pick at No. 24, taking Brandon Meriweather and trading the 28th pick to the San Francisco 49ers for a fourth-round pick they wasted on Kareem Brown. They also traded away their third-round pick and passed on players like Joe Staley, Eric Weddle, Sidney Rice, LaMarr Woodley and James Jones.

Of course, there is 2008 when the Patriots lost their first-round pick because of Spygate, which fans like to brush off but it still matters. They did land Jerod Mayo at No. 10, thanks in part to securing the 49ers’ first-round pick the year before, but it’s too early to be sold on him.

Some more highlights of all that trading include drafting Shawn Crable and dealing a third-round pick while Jermichael Finley and Cliff Avril were available, but it’s alright because they drafted Kevin O’Connell and Matthew Slater. More trading led to Ron Brace in 2009, so Belichick was swinging and missing like Pedro Cerrano at curveballs.

Let’s not forget the mother of all debacles, the 2009 draft when the Patriots traded the 23rd pick, losing out on Michael Oher. Then they traded the newly acquired 26th pick which the Packers used to select Clay Matthews. The Patriots instead ended up with Pat Chung, Brace and Darius Butler. Belichick basically told LeSean McCoy, Connor Barwin, Rey Maualuga and Hakeem Nicks to have a Coke and smile.

Since 2010, nothing has improved. Aaron Hernandez is in prison, Jeff Demps never played a down, Bequette was a bust, Markell Carter is a nobody, as is Nate Ebner and they draft mediocre players from Rutgers who will be released in two seasons.

Maybe the Patriots should stop trying to be the smartest guys in the room and just draft, because all of this trading away picks has yielded exactly zero Super Bowls in the last decade. The team is now comprised of more free agents than all those late-round drafts picks who were supposed to add depth. Trading down is a failed strategy, and so is picking value over quality.

Willis Patenaude is a New England Patriots writer for Follow him on Twitter @WillisPatenaude, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google

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