By: Russ Goldman
There is no question that the Patriots had a difficult time in several NFL drafts after the Super Bowl Championship seasons. However, they have rebounded very well from their slump in the draft, and the future looks pretty bright with young talent being added to the veteran players already on the roster. The reason for the optimism has to be that the Patriots have struck gold in the last three NFL drafts.
Before I talk about those three drafts, I want to take a look at the two drafts prior. In 2008, there were several misses in the draft, but you did get a starting middle linebacker in the first round with Jerod Mayo, and a special teams pro bowler in the fifth round with Matthew Slater.
In 2009, the Patriots had high hopes for this draft, as they ended with three picks in the second round. Now, defensive tackle Ron Brace was a disappointment as a pick in the second round, and he is a definite miss. However, also in the second, you had safety Patrick Chung, who never lived up to my prediction that he would be the next Rodney Harrison, but you did get four years of play out of him so I would not consider him a bust.
The positives in this draft were right tackle Sebastian Vollmer taken in the second round, and wide receiver Julian Edelman was taken in the seventh round. Vollmer has become a top offensive tackle in the league, and Edelman has been inconsistent, but at times as shown flashes of brilliance. The jury is still out on Edelman, but he is still on the roster.
I just wanted to point out that even though many so called experts feel that the 2008 and 2009 drafts were disasters, the Patriots still have four players on the roster that are contributing, and a few that are key pieces to the roster. Next time you think of those two drafts, just remember the players I have mentioned that are still with the team.
Now, I am going to take a look at the last three drafts for the Patriots, and when I lay this out, you are going to see just how well the roster has been injected with young talent. I have a feeling after reading what comes next, many of you will agree with my thoughts on the last three Patriots drafts.
The 2010 Patriots draft currently has seven players that are on the roster. In the first round, the Patriots drafted Devin McCourty at cornerback. His first season was sensational with the Patriots, but then he had a sophomore slump followed by a move last season to free safety. I think McCourty is the center-fielder for the future, and should improve the more he plays at the safety position.
In the second round, the Patriots drafted tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has turned out to be one of the best in the league at his position. If he can stay healthy, he might be one of the greatest tight ends of all time.
Also in the second round, the Pats drafted defensive end Jermaine Cunningham who had a very good rookie season, but since then has had more negatives than positives. This is his fourth season and it is make or break time for him. The positive is he is still on the roster, so the Pats must feel he can still contribute.
Brandon Spikes was also a pick in the second round, and is a middle linebacker. Spikes gives a real physical presence in the middle of the defense, and still has serious upside. He is a player I expect to make an impact again this season.
In the fourth round, the Patriots got a steal with tight end Aaron Hernandez. His versatility allows him to line up in several positions, and again when healthy he is a top tight end in the game.
In the fifth round, the Patriots got their punter with Zoltan Mesko. The last player to discuss in this draft is defensive tackle Brandon Deaderick who was drafted in the seventh round. Just please look at the overall talent just from the 2010 NFL Draft alone.
In 2011, the Patriots got their left tackle in first round pick Nate Solder, and he will be protecting Tom Brady in the future at that position. The first pick in the second round was cornerback Ras-I Dowling, and when he has played, he has shown the ability to play the position. The problem has been health, and the jury is out on him as well.
Also in the second round, the Patriots drafted running back Shane Vereen, and in his first season he did not show us much, but last season he showed the burst the Patriots have been looking for at that position. I feel his future is very bright, and looking forward to see what he can offer this season.
In the third round, the Pats drafted running back Stevan Ridley, who has shown to the ability to be an every down back in the NFL. I think like Vereen the future is bright for this running back.
Also in the third round, the Patriots drafted quarterback Ryan Mallett. He is the back-up quarterback, and honestly I am not a fan of this player. I don’t see him as the player to take over for Brady some day.
Offensive tackle Marcus Cannon was taken in the fifth round, and even though he had a tough pre-season last year, he was able to contribute as a back-up lineman. The Patriots also drafted cornerback Malcolm Williams in the seventh round, and he was on the practice squad.
The 2011 draft added serious talent to the offense, but also gave you a punter as well. I think this draft continues to show the improvement the Patriots have made in the last three NFL drafts.
Now, I am going to take a look at the 2012 draft which was about upgrading the defense with young talent, and I feel the Patriots have done just that. The Patriots moved up twice to take two potential impact players on defense. Their first pick was defensive end Chandler Jones, and in his first season, he has already shown his ability to get after the quarterback. Their second pick was linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who has just scratched the surface on his ability. I think you will see a huge jump from him this season.
In the second round, the Patriots drafted a controversial pick when they took safety Tavon Wilson. However, for a rookie he had his mistakes, but contributed on defense, and if he can improve, the secondary could continue to transition from a weakness to a possible strength.
In the third round, the Patriots drafted defensive end Jake Bequette, who was a healthy scratch most games, but he is a young player at a position of need, so I will give him a chance to see if he can develop in his second season with the team. The jury is very much out on Mr. Bequette.
In the sixth round, the Pats drafted defensive back Nate Ebner, who contributed in the secondary, and is still learning the game. Again, the Patriots had a drafted player that played a role last season. In the seventh round, the Patriots drafted wide receiver Jeremy Ebert, who ended up on the Patriots practice squad, after spending time with Eagles on their practice squad.
Earlier in the seventh round, the Patriots drafted cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who became a serious steal in the draft. He became a starting cornerback for the Pats, and seriously has a bright future in the secondary.
The draft is seriously the best way to long term build your roster, while adding free agents is the way to supplement your roster. The Patriots have taken dramatic steps to getting younger, and much more talented on both sides of the ball.
They have have added seven players, each of the last three seasons, for a total of twenty one players to the roster or the practice squad. This is a quarterback driven league, and the Pats quarterback is in the last stages of his career, which could last between four to five more seasons. However, the young talent that has been added to the roster, will help the transition away from being all about Brady, and back to being about the team.