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The Collapse of the New England Patriots: Draft Busts and Bad Trades Catch Up with Bill Belichick

After 20 years of dominance, the New England Patriots have fallen on hard times. The team is 2-5 and will likely miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008. It is also likely that New England will finish the season with a losing record for the first time since 2000. Bill Belichick is quick to blame the lack of cap space for New England’s failures, but that is not the main culprit.

As we’ve seen over the past few years, great teams build through the draft. Franchises can lock down supreme talent on team friendly deals. For New England, draft busts and shortsighted trades have led to the mediocrity of 2020.

In the 2017 NFL Draft, the Patriots only made 4 selections, and they did not draft a player until the 87th pick. New England traded their first round selection to the Saints in exchange for Brandin Cooks and their second round pick for Kony Ealy. Cooks would have success in New England and the Pats would recoup a first round pick for him the following offseason, but the Kony Ealy trade did not work in the slightest. Ealy never played a down for New England, and there was so much talent available at the 64th overall pick.

JuJu Smith-Schuster went two picks ahead at 62nd, so New England could have traded up to build their receiving corps. Cooper Kupp went 5 picks later, and that would have been a great addition as well. 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara also came off the board with the 67th pick. On the defensive side of the ball, the Cleveland Browns selected Defensive Tackle Larry Ogunjobi with the 65th selection.

Belichick gave up a premium pick for a player who he thought could help the team right away instead of staying put and building through the draft. As you’ll see through this article, hindsight is 20/20, but there is a common theme with New England trading draft picks for veteran players.

The Patriots would make their first selections at pick 83 and 85 with defensive end Derek Rivers and offensive tackle Antonio Garcia. The latter would never play a down for the Pats, while Rivers is still with the team, but has only played 12 games in 4 seasons with limited playing time when he is healthy. At these selections, Wide Receivers Chris Godwin and Kenny Golladay, Cornerback Shaquill Griffin, and Safety John Johnson were all available.

New England would go on to select Deatrich Wise Jr. in the 4th round, but other than that, this draft was a dud for New England. They only made four picks, waited way too long to make their first selection, left better players on the board, and traded a premium pick for a veteran who never logged a snap as a Patriot.

In the 2018 Draft, the Patriots held two first round picks for the first time since 2012. They acquired the 23rd pick in the draft after trading Brandin Cooks to the Los Angeles Rams. New England selected Offensive Tackle Isaiah Wynn and he has come into his own as the starting Left Tackle in 2020.

With their second 1st round selection, the Patriots drafted Running Back Sony Michel, and that pick has not paid off. Michel ran for 900+ yards in his first two seasons, but he’s been unable to stay healthy, and he’s been outplayed by lower draft picks. New England could have made a better selection as Pro Bowl Running Back Nick Chubb went four picks later and All-Pro Linebacker Darius Leonard went five picks later.

The Patriots would then trade back twice in the second round when they could have drafted Tight Ends Mike Gesicki and Dallas Goedert who could have filled the void left by Rob Gronkowski’s eventual retirement. Belichick followed these two blunders by trading up into the second round to select Cornerback Duke Dawson who would never play a snap for New England. Wide Receiver D.J. Chark and Linebacker Fred Warner were both on the board when New England traded up and either of those guys would be big contributors to the Patriots in 2020.

The Patriots would not pick again until the 5th round. With the 143rd selection, New England drafted Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley who has been a disappointment this season. The only other notable selection came in the 7th round where the Pats drafted Ryan Izzo with the 250th pick. Belichick would acquire veteran players like Offensive Tackle Trent Brown and Cornerback Jason McCourty, but he also missed by trading for Defensive End Cassius Marsh.

I would grade this draft as below average for the Patriots as Isaiah Wynn is the only consistent starter that they selected. The second best acquisition came as an Undrafted Free Agent in J.C. Jackson, which is very telling as to how this draft went.

In the 2019 Draft, New England would get off to a rough start. After neglecting the offense for so many years, Belichick had to spend a first round pick on a Wide Receiver so Tom Brady would have a weapon around him. With the 32nd selection, New England drafted N’Keal Harry, as he was the best receiver on the board. It’s a little too early to start applying hindsight, but Wide Receiver Deebo Samuel went four picks later, and there were other standout rookie Cornerbacks such as Sean Murphy-Bunting, Rock Ya-Sin, and Trayvon Mullen available. These three players would have been a better selection, but Belichick’s unwillingness to draft receivers in the past forced his hand with this selection.

After passing on these three Defensive Backs, Belichick decided to trade up to the 45th selection to draft Joejuan Williams. The second year Corner plays very little in New England, and the Patriots would have been better off drafting an offensive player. Wide Receiver A.J. Brown went six picks later, and Tight End Irv Smith Jr went right before Brown, and he would currently be the best Tight End on New England’s roster had Belichick drafted him.

The Patriots would then trade away the 64th selection to the Seattle Seahawks, and Seattle would draft D.K. Metcalf. He has developed into a superstar Wide Receiver, and the Patriots could really use him on this 2020 roster.

New England would follow up the first two rounds by selecting Defensive End Chase Winovich and Running Back Damien Harris. Winovich had a great rookie season in 2019, and while his snap count has decreased over the last few weeks, he still leads the team in sacks. With Sony Michel on IR, Harris has stepped up in the last four games by totaling 279 rushing yards on 49 carries. He has outplayed the 2018 first round pick, and he could be the starter going forward.

The draft would slow down significantly for New England following the selection of Winovich and Harris. Belichick would select Offensive Tackle Yodny Cajuste with the 101st election, and he has yet to play a game for the Pats. Just five picks later, Defensive End and Defensive Rookie of the Year runner-up Maxx Crosby went off the board to the Raiders.

New England would then select back-up Offensive Lineman Hjalte Froholdt with the 118th selection and potential long term QB Jarrett Stidham with the 133rd pick. It is too early to tell how these selections will turn out, but the one mistake Belichick made came from trading away the 134th pick. Tight End Foster Moreau went three picks later, and he had five Touchdowns in his rookie season.

In the fifth round, the Pats spent two selections on Defensive Tackle Byron Cowart and Punter Jake Bailey. Cowart has increased his number of snaps the last couple of weeks, while Bailey took over punting duties in 2019 and has shined ever since then.

One of the best additions of this draft class came as a UDFA. Jakobi Meyers signed with New England after going undrafted in 2019, and he has been one of their best receivers over the past two seasons. Meyers has easily outplayed first round pick Harry by being more consistent.

The 2019 draft class is pretty average as they missed on their first and second round picks. Belichick did acquire starters later in the draft, but it is important to hit on those early, premium picks to build a successful roster, and New England did not do that.

It is too early to tell how the 2020 Draft will play out, but there are some obvious blunders right off the bat. After failing to address the Wide Receiver position, Belichick traded a second round pick for Mohammed Sanu at the 2019 trade deadline. This backfired as Sanu did not play well and was cut ahead of the 2020 season. New England lost a premium draft pick as well as cap space because of the trade.

This trade could be one of the reasons why the Patriots traded out of the first round in the 2020 Draft. They had very little cap space to sign a first round talent, and they had no second round pick. If New England kept their first round selection, they could have drafted Linebacker Patrick Queen who will likely win Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Belichick would use his newly acquired second round pick to draft Safety Kyle Dugger with the 37th selection. This pick could work out, but offensive players like Wide Receiver Leviska Shenault Jr. and Tight End Cole Kmet were available at this selection and would be great additions to a lackluster offense.

The Patriots would then draft Tight Ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene in the third round, and both men have combined for only one catch in the 2020 season. New England also spent a fifth round pick on Kicker Justin Rohrwasser who has been on the practice squad the entire season.

So far, the best selection came in the sixth round where Belichick drafted Offensive Guard Michael Onwenu with the 182nd pick, and he has looked great on the offensive line. Like I said earlier, it is too early to grade this draft, but the Patriots missed out on a lot of opportunities.

In the last four years, Bill Belichick has made 30 selections in the draft and has only hit on six of those picks (Deatrich Wise Jr., Isaiah Wynn, Chase Winovich, Damien Harris, Jake Bailey, and Michael Onwenu). There are still a few guys who could develop into great acquisitions, but it is not off to a great start. When a team misses on this many draft picks, they find themselves in a similar situation to the 2-5 Patriots.

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