By: Bob George
Shopping for the groceries. At Stop & Shop, Star’s or Purity Supreme, it’s one thing. In the NFL, it’s quite another.
Over the years, the Patriots have had such brainiacs as Upton Bell, Chuck Fairbanks, Bucko Kilroy, Patrick Sullivan, Sam Jankovich, Bill Parcells, Bobby Grier and Bill Belichick with the shopping carts and the discount coupons and the S&H green stamps. The most inexact science in the world is correctly predicting talent in the NFL. No one player is “can’t miss”, even those who are. There is always a chance that someone will not live up to lofty expectations. Conversely, there are many players who don’t project to be solid NFL players and go on to Hall of Fame careers.
Looking for talent and finding talent are two different things. Nowadays you have the scouting combine in Indianapolis, exhaustive scouting reports and lots and lots of people who go out to college football games, watch and evaluate. Reading about prospects in a magazine is not enough. Fans who think they know everything about a prospective NFL player really don’t. You have seen Jadeveon Clowney clobber opposing running backs at South Carolina, but how well will he clobber bigger, stronger and faster running backs in the NFL? Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo put up huge passing numbers at schools in conferences which don’t feature behemoth defenses. How will that translate to 4,000 passing yards in the NFL?
In short, when drafting players, you really don’t know, not even if you are a seasoned NFL expert. Trying to predict whom Belichick will take in the draft is one thing, but even more difficult is Belichick trying to predict who will fit into his system the best. He knows better than you do, and on occasion, he is wrong. All of Belichick’s peers are wrong some of the time, some of them more than others.
Bill Belichick knows better than anyone else what an inexact science drafting football players can be.
(USA TODAY Images)
That said, here is our list of the top ten Patriot draft busts since the 1970 merger. There may be some players you feel should be on this list, but these players provided the most hope and delivered the least. It should be said that one of the candidates for this list was Aaron Hernandez, due to the fact that his brilliant NFL career was cut short due to his being arraigned on murder charges, and we’ll explain why after we reveal the top ten list.
The list is in chronological order, not in an ordinal pattern.
The first post-merger pick, and the last first round pick by the Boston Patriots, Olsen was a defensive tackle taken with the fourth overall pick in 1970 out of Utah State. Olsen had great family bloodlines, as he was the brother of Hall of Fame tackle Merlin Olsen of the Rams and the Fearsome Foursome. Olsen never played for the Patriots. He broke in the following year with his brother in Los Angeles, and wound up playing four seasons with the Rams and two seasons in Denver. He played in 79 career games but started only 20.
The Patriots deserve more from a fourth overall pick than what they got. Olsen blew out his knee in a practice for the old Chicago College All-Star Game and missed all of the 1970 season (thanks, Wikipedia). In 1971, the Patriots traded him to the Rams for a first round pick which they subsequently traded to the Giants for Fred Dryer. The Patriots then traded Dryer to the Rams for a 1973 first round pick (if you have ever heard of Rick Cash, you really have no life) which eventually became running back Sam Cunningham. So neither Dryer nor Olsen ever played for the Patriots, but three years later they acquired their all-time leading rusher. That’s at least something for their trouble, but the Patriots went through many dark years before reaping some benefit from the fourth overall pick of 1970.
That last game of the 1981 season should have caused the NFL to do what the NBA would do five years later, that being to bring about something called a draft lottery.
The 1-14 Patriots were at the 1-14 Colts (at the time still based in Baltimore). Bitter rivals in 1976-78, both teams had fallen on hard times. The loser of this game would get the first pick in the 1982 NFL Draft. The game was horrible and sickening to watch, as both teams tried to out-blunder and out-underperform the other. The game ended with Baltimore “winning”, 23-21, so the Patriots would get the top pick and the Colts the second.
The game was called the “Ken Sims Bowl”. Some experts also called it the “Marcus Allen Bowl”. But it was clear that if the Patriots got the top pick, the selection would be Texas defensive end Sims. Sims spent eight mostly injured seasons in the NFL, all with the Patriots. Only in 1984 did he play in all 16 games. For the Super Bowl season of 1985, he was famously seen on the sidelines in civilian clothes during the postseason. For being the top pick of the draft, Sims was a huge bust.
The Colts whiffed also. They had picks two and four, and they took Mississippi State LB Johnie Cooks and Ohio State QB Art Schlichter, in order. Cooks would go on to play in Super Bowl XXV with the Giants but did next to nothing with the Colts, and Schlichter ran into gambling issues which ended his NFL career in 1985. Meanwhile, both teams passed on future Hall of Famers Mike Munchak (taken at 8 by Houston, now Tennessee) and Allen (taken at 10 by the Raiders).
This is not so much about what little Matich did for the Patriots, but rather whom he was acquired for. Matich played 12 seasons in the NFL, the first four with the Patriots. He only played in 26 games for the Patriots as an offensive lineman, not much bang for the first round (28th overall) selection in 1985.
The Patriots got the 28th pick after a trade with San Francisco. The 49ers wanted to trade up to the 16th slot, so the Patriots sent San Francisco the 16th and 75th pick to the 49ers for their first round pick (28th), their second round pick (56th) and their third round pick (84th). The Patriots took DE Ben Thomas of Auburn with the 56th pick, who did wind up with the Patriots on their Super Bowl team of 1985, and they took DB Audray McMillan of Houston with the 84th pick, who did nothing for the Patriots at all but played eight years with the Vikings and Oilers.
So, whom did the 49ers take with the 16th pick? Some wide receiver from Mississippi Valley State named Jerry Rice. He was selected as the best player in NFL history on The 100 Greatest Players Of All Time on the NFL Network. Short of drafting the 1985 equivalent of Tom Brady, the trade and selection of Matich was horrible given how Rice turned out.
Dupard was a standout running back at SMU just prior to its receiving the NCAA death penalty after the 1986 season for numerous improprieties regarding boosters. The Patriots took him with the 26th overall pick in the first round of the 1986 draft. The Patriots already had former SMU back Craig James, as well as Tony Collins, so adding Dupard to the mix would fortify an already strong offensive backfield, and in 1986 the defending AFC champs would go on to win the AFC East but lose in the playoffs to Denver.
Dupard was no help at all. He was bedeviled with injuries during his whole career, playing all 16 games only in 1988. He played four seasons for the Patriots before moving on to Washington for his final two seasons in the NFL. His output was so poor that the late Globe columnist Will McDonough called him “One Yard Dupard”. The Patriots slid into an abyss that bottomed out in 1990 with a 1-15 record and the worst season in franchise history.
Hart Lee Dykes
Dykes was taken with the 16th selection of the first round in 1989. The 1989 Patriots are more remembered for the three defensive players who were knocked out for the entire season due to injuries sustained in the final preseason game against Green Bay (Andre Tippett, Garin Veris, Ronnie Lippett). But Dykes was no factor whatsoever. He played in only two seasons, played in all 16 games in 1989 but started only eight of them. His career totals were 83 catches for 1344 yards and seven touchdowns. Dykes probably couldn’t avoid the problems of 1990 nor be the savior, but the Patriots whiffed badly on this pick at 16.
Chung was selected with the 13th pick of the 1992 draft. He would be the last pre-Parcells first round selection. Jankovich missed on this pick, as Chung, a guard out of Virginia Tech, played only three seasons with the Patriots and two more seasons after that. He did start all 16 games of Parcells’ first season in 1993, but a 13 pick is bad when it yields only three non-remarkable seasons.
All eyes were on this pick. It was the first post-Parcells pick, made by Bobby Grier, the man Bob Kraft told to go grocery shopping instead of Parcells, which drove the latter out of town after Super Bowl XXXI. The result was this smallish cornerback out of Kansas State named Chris Canty, or in the vernacular of Patriot Nation, “Can’t he?” He was the 29th pick of the 1997 draft, made near the end of the first round.
Canty played only four seasons in the NFL, three with the Patriots. He played in all but two games over his three Patriot seasons but started only ten of them. He had only one career interception as a Patriot. Canty was but one of many bad picks by Grier during the time when Parcells was running things with the Jets. Being a first round pick, it is magnified even more.
Tony Simmons, Andy Katzenmoyer
The next two on this list are lopped together, as both of them are compensation picks for losing Parcells to the Jets. Simmons was selected in the second round in 1998, Katzenmoyer in the first round in 1999. These picks, the two “plum picks” from the Parcells exodus, would define how well, or how poorly, the Patriots would make out from losing Parcells to their hated division rival.
On both counts, decided edge to the Jets.
Simmons was a wide receiver from Wisconsin billed as tall and speedy. He played three seasons in New England and caught only 56 passes for 981 yards and six touchdowns. He bounced around with three teams before hanging it up in 2001. With Terry Glenn going down the tubes and the Patriots right along with him, Simmons did not provide the needed help for Shawn Jefferson at wideout and turned out to be a miserable failure for Grier and the Patriots.
Katzenmoyer was a highly regarded linebacker from Ohio State when he was taken at 28 of the first round (Boston College center Damien Woody was taken with the Patriots’ regular pick at 17 and fared much better). Katzenmoyer played in only 24 games with the Patriots before retiring from the NFL in 2000 due to neck issues. He was destined to be a fan favorite and a lunchpail type guy with the Patriots, but instead became another bust for Grier.
Belichick took over the next year, and has had overall good success with drafts. He whiffed on some of them, the worst perhaps being Jackson, a Florida wideout taken in the second round of the 2006 draft. Looked at as a replacement for the departed Deion Branch and David Givens, Jackson showed the Patriots next to nothing in his three seasons as a Patriot. He caught 13 passes for 152 yards and three touchdowns in 2006, was a kick returner in 2007, and then played one season in Denver before retiring. Bad stats for the 36th overall pick in the draft.
Some guys who almost made the list include Tom Reynolds (WR, R2, 1972), Steve Corbett (G, R2, 1974), Pete Cusick (NT, R3, 1975), Bob Cryder (T, R1, 1978), Darryal Wilson (WR, R2, 1983), anyone selected in 1997 other than Brandon Mitchell, who actually did help the Patriots win Super Bowl XXXVI, Chris Floyd (RB, R3, 1998, a compensation pick for Curtis Martin), Adrian Klemm (T, R2, 2000), Brandon Meriweather (S, R1, 2007), Hernandez, and Ras-I Dowling (CB, R2, 2011). Most of these players are noteworthy by how little they did based on their high selection in the draft. As stated at the beginning of the article, Hernandez gets honorable (or perhaps dishonorable) mention because, despite his not being selected as high as the others (fourth round), he did blossom into a plus tight end and a wonderful compliment to fellow draftee Rob Gronkowski. But his legal issues have ended his NFL career with the Patriots no longer being able to tap into his vast potential, and thus the mention on this list.
So, will Garoppolo or Dominique Easley appear on this list one day? One cannot tell right now, not even Belichick. Easley’s knees and Brady’s career longevity are the biggest factors. But right now, with both players’ career status at 0.0, trying to guess how well they will or might do isn’t time very well spent. The time taken to decide to draft them was, for sure.