It's time to evaluate the New England Patriots' 2007 draft class, which has been the subject of plenty of discussion. Their actual drafting was poor, but the Pats still managed to land a number of stars via trade.
The Patriots' actual draft picks left a whole lot to be desired, but they used their 2007 draft assets to swing some of their best trades in franchise history. About seven weeks before the draft, the Patriots sent their second- and seventh-round draft picks to the Dolphins for wide receiver Wes Welker. Then, late Saturday night during draft weekend, the Pats traded their fourth-round pick to the Raiders for wideout Randy Moss.
The Patriots have been the subject of criticism for their performance in this draft, and there is some merit to that criticism. Yet they got 596 receptions, 7,453 yards and 62 touchdowns out of Welker and Moss in the last three seasons. You won't find another team in the league that yielded those returns with its picks.
This distinction goes to Brandon Meriweather in a landslide. The former Miami safety was a huge talent coming out of college, but his draft stock dropped due to his involvement in a shooting and an in-game brawl. The Pats snagged him at No. 24, and Meriweather made his first Pro Bowl last season. He is a bona fide, playmaking safety who has seen a drastic progression each year in the NFL. Meriweather, who turned 26 in January, is a solid tackler with great instincts. Once he develops a better understanding of his responsibilities within the Patriots' defensive system, he'll be an elite player.
Meriweather was also the product of a key trade. In September 2006, the Patriots shipped wide receiver Deion Branch to the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for their first-round pick in 2007. The Patriots, in turn, scooped up Meriweather, and it also helped the Patriots trade away their 28th pick to San Francisco, which sent a 2008 first-rounder to New England. The return on that trade? Jerod Mayo.
This dishonor goes to Kareem Brown, if only because he's the highest draft pick after Meriweather. Brown, another product of Miami, was taken in the fourth round, but he was only in New England for a few months. In fact, the Jets deemed Brown to be of such little use along the defensive line — his natural position — they tried turning him into a tight end. When that project failed, the Jets became the second team to release Brown, whose biggest claim to fame was wearing a Kevin Garnett Celtics jersey in the Pats' locker room.
The Rest of the Picks
Tackle Clint Oldenburg, fifth round, No. 171 overall: The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Colorado State product was released from the Pats practice squad in September 2007, and he has since spent time with the Jets, Rams, Broncos, Vikings and Redskins.
Linebacker Justin Rogers, sixth round, No. 180 overall: He was the first player drafted out of Southern Methodist University in four years, but he was released at the end of the 2007 preseason. Rogers played special teams for the Cowboys in 2007 and 2008, and he spent a portion of the 2009 season with the Chiefs. Kansas City released him earlier this month.
Cornerback Mike Richardson, sixth round, No. 202 overall: Richardson's tenure with the Patriots was legendary compared to others in this draft class. The Notre Dame product spent 2007 on injured reserve but played in 10 games in 2008. He was released last August and spent 2009 with the Chiefs.
Running back Justise Hairston, sixth round, No. 208 overall: He was born in New Britain, Conn., and starred at Central Connecticut State, but Hairston was released by the Patriots in September 2007. He has since played for the Colts and Bills.
Tackle Corey Hilliard, sixth round, No. 209 overall: Another draftee who didn't make it past roster cut-down day, Hilliard has also played for the Colts and Browns.
Linebacker Oscar Lua, seventh round, No. 211 overall: The USC product actually showed some real potential throughout the Patriots' offseason camps, but he was placed on injured reserve before the season — a possible case of the “Foxboro flu.” Lua was released in February 2008, effectively ending his football career.
Offensive lineman Mike Elgin, seventh round, No. 247 overall: Elgin was also cut before the regular season, and he has since spent time with the Jets and Colts. He is currently out of football.
Who They Missed
Bill Belichick acknowledged last season that there had been a debate between Meriweather and Miami linebacker Jon Beason (who went 25th to Carolina) with the 24th pick, but the Pats head coach was happy with his decision.
The Patriots had four of their 10 picks between the sixth and seventh rounds, which obviously gave them plenty of options, but they didn't walk away with anything great. At that point in the draft, it's mostly a guessing game, so it's tough to be critical for missing on players. There are two good ones, though: Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw and current Browns wide receiver Chansi Stuckey, who was taken by the Jets.
There are two ways to grade this draft. First, it's perfectly fair to criticize the poor job done by the scouting department prior to this draft. After all, only two of the Patriots' nine draft picks ever played a down for the team. But the Patriots did hit on their first-round pick, and Meriweather is turning into a star.
But it would be irresponsible to grade this draft without considering the acquisitions of Welker and Moss, who have made an astronomical impact over the last three seasons. The Patriots clearly didn't find any diamonds with their late draft picks, but they've got very few regrets with how the 2007 draft panned out.