How the Patriots keep winning
May 1st, 2012 By Chris Lee
Nate Solder (pictured at the 2011 Senior Bowl) serves as another example of the Patriots' winning principles year in and year out.
For years, we’ve wondered how the New England Patriots do it.
Outside of Tom Brady, the Patriots roster hasn’t consisted of players whose names are on the tips of casual football fans. I’d bet the average NFL fan would be hard-pressed to name 10 Patriots in any given year.
They don’t sign big-name free agents; before you can say “Randy Moss,” I’ll remind you that the Patriots acquired the future Hall of Fame receiver in a 2007 trade with Oakland. The cost: a fourth-round pick in that year’s draft.
They don’t pick high in the draft; in the last 11 drafts, New England has picked in the top 20 just three times: Nate Solder in 2011 (17th overall), Jerod Mayo in 2008 (10) and Ty Warren in 2003 (11).
Nor do they stockpile high draft picks. This year was the first time since 1999 that the Patriots have picked twice in the first round.
Given that most of the Patriots’ talent consists of players they draft and develop, I decided to take a closer look at New England’s track record of drafting over the last decade to glean the secrets.
The answer is as simple as coach Bill Belichick’s wardrobe: the Patriots simply don’t mess up.
Let’s start with the top of the draft. You would think that having a first-round pick almost guarantees netting a team a good player, but it doesn’t.
While most teams’ failures aren’t as spectacular as the Chargers’ Ryan Leaf (second overall in 1998) or the Raiders’ JaMarcus Russell (first overall in 2007), take a look at every team around the league and see how hard it is to hit with your first-rounder year in and year out.
For example, take the Colts, the league’s second-winningest team behind the Patriots in the last decade. Certainly, Indianapolis’s front office has been one of the most-respected in the league during that time.
While the Colts didn’t draft a bust in a Leaf- or Russell-like fashion, their first-round success during that span has been very ordinary. Marlin Jackson, their 2005 first-rounder, has been a full-time starter just one year. Anthony Gonzalez and Donald Brown have had a few seasons as decent role players, but nothing more. Jerry Hughes, the team’s 2010 first-rounder, has one start to his credit in two years.
In other words, even if you know what you’re doing, you stand a good chance of missing with a few first-rounders.
That’s what makes New England so remarkable. The Patriots don’t miss.
The closest thing to a bust in that span has been running back Laurence Maroney, and in fairness to Maroney, the Pats’ system isn’t one in which running backs get a chance to put up big numbers. Still, Maroney was a quality player, combining for nearly 3,000 yards in his four years in New England and averaging 4.2 yards per rush.
And boy, did New England ever hit on its other seven first-rounders from 2003 through last year. Here they are with their credentials:
What happened in 2009, you ask? The Patriots didn’t have a first-rounder that year, so their first pick was Patrick Chung, 34th overall. By his second season, Chung was a full-time starter.
The Pats have been pretty good outside of the first round, too. The 2010 draft is shaping up as an excellent one for New England; outside of McCourty, they also took tight ends Rob Gronkowski (second round) and Aaron Hernandez (fourth) and punter Zoltan Mesko (fifth), who set a rookie record for punting average that fall.
Other non-first round selections that jump off the page over the last decade include a trio of guys from the 2003 Draft (Eugene Wilson, second; Asante Samuel, fourth round; and Dan Koppen, (fifth); Ben Watson (2004, second); Ellis Hobbs (2004, third) and Matt Cassell (seventh) in 2005.
If there’s a fault with the Patriots, it’s that this last list is slanted towards the earlier years. The Patriot Way was formerly to stockpile lower picks, build depth, and play the numbers to their advantage, but the Patriots’ defense was just average last year. Smart executives know when it’s time to change their ways, and Belichick, who’s also the team’s general manager, bucked his own system this time.
Sensing he needed some stars, Belichick traded up into the first round for end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Time will tell if it was the right move, but it seems like a good idea: both are terrific athletes who were productive players in college and fill needs for New England.
Incidentally, Belichick’s draft-day trades also seem to work out. The player the Raiders selected with their compensatory pick for moss was defensive back John Bowie, who has all of two career tackles. That fall, Moss set an NFL record with 23 touchdown catches.
Of course, no celebration of the Patriots’ legacy would be complete without mentioning what might be the greatest draft pick in NFL history: Tom Brady in the sixth round of 2000. That happened to be Belichick’s first draft.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you have to respect what the Patriots have done. In an era where there’s more information available than ever, New England still finds a way to play the draft game better than anyone.
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Posted by supertmartin1 on May 2nd, 2012Great insight to the Patriots draft the last Decade Chris , i've noticed the Patriots
have a hard time drafting a quality Wide Receivers.
Posted by Chriselda on May 23rd, 2012go tom! Hes amazing and don't even think about calilng peyton better, they wrote a WHOLE researched book on why brady was better and the book was before 2007 with his record setting TD performance and before his MVP season this year (which he was the only player in NFL? history to win all 50 votes for MVP)
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