Let's keep moving down the line and take a look at the New England Patriots' 2006 draft class, which is the subject of a lot of passion in this area. NESN.com has already looked at the team's draft classes from 2009, 2008 and 2007. Stay tuned in the coming days as we continue our analysis of coach Bill Belichick's draft performances.
Few players draw such inspired ire from their professional hometown as Patriots running back Laurence Maroney, who was taken with the 21st pick in the 2006 draft. Maroney has been criticized for his indecision, a soft running style, injuries and, most recently, fumbling issues. Some have called him the worst first-round pick of the Belichick era, yet everyone keeps waiting for Maroney to run with the flash he displayed during his days at Minnesota — or, at the very least, his rookie season in New England.
It looked like Maroney turned that corner in 2009 when he had a six-game stretch during which he scored eight touchdowns, but he couldn't shake a fumbling epidemic that eventually got him benched. It's possible, though unlikely, that Maroney has played his last game in New England. He is entering the final season of his five-year rookie contract, and he's got 2,430 rushing yards (4.2 yards per carry), 21 rushing touchdowns, 409 receiving yards and one receiving touchdown as a Patriot.
It's not always a ringing endorsement when a team's best draft pick is a kicker, but that criticism aside, Stephen Gostkowski has been a great fit for the Patriots. The fourth-rounder from Memphis soothed the pain of Adam Vinatieri's departure, and Gostkowski has actually been a far superior kicker to Vinatieri over the last four seasons.
Gostkowski, who is a restricted free agent this offseason, has converted 103-of-121 field goals (85.1 percent) in the regular season and 9-of-11 kicks in the playoffs. He has also been lauded for his powerful leg, which has been a tremendous asset on kickoffs. Along with his consistency, Gostkowski was given hero status by his teammates after recovering a fumble on a late kickoff against the Bills in the 2009 season opener.
Love him or hate him, at least Maroney has given the Patriots some production in his career. Wide receiver Chad Jackson, on the other hand, was a serious bust on a number of levels. Jackson was a star at Florida, and the Patriots made a big play to trade up and take him with the fourth pick of the second round. New England sent its second-rounder (No. 52) and third-rounder (No. 75) to Green Bay to move up to No. 36. Jackson rewarded the Patriots' efforts with 13 receptions, 152 receiving yards, three touchdowns, a string of hamstring injuries and a torn ACL over the course of two seasons. He is now out of football.
Oh, but it gets worse. The Packers, who also were looking for a wide receiver, selected Greg Jennings with the 52nd pick, and the Western Michigan product has caught 246 passes for 3,957 yards and 28 touchdowns in his career. It's tough to criticize anyone for wanting Jackson after his brilliant collegiate career, but it was pretty well known that people were tired of his lack of toughness, and there were whispers about his inability to grasp the playbook. Those are some concerns that the team potentially could have spotted in the scouting process.
The Rest of the Picks
Tight end David Thomas, third round, No. 86 overall: The Texas product had a celebrated high school career and continued to play well in college, so Thomas looked like a potential steal at this point. He was seldom used as a rookie, and his second season was a lost cause due to injuries. Thomas didn't do much in 2008, either, except for getting called for a boneheaded personal foul late in a loss to the Colts. He only caught 21 passes for 261 yards and one touchdown in his three seasons with the Pats, and he was traded to the Saints for a seventh-round draft pick prior to the start of the 2009 regular season. Thomas went on to thrive in the Saints' air-it-out system, catching 35 passes for 356 yards and one touchdown.
Tight end/fullback Garrett Mills, fourth round, No. 106 overall: His rookie season was a wash due to a lack of playing time, and he was eventually stashed onto injured reserve, but Belichick still had plans for the combo player. Mills was released during the 2007 preseason, but Belichick hoped he would clear waivers and land on the team's practice squad. Not so fast, said Vikings head coach Brad Childress, who scooped up Mills against Belichick's wishes, and that's where Mills has been since.
Tackle Ryan O'Callaghan, fifth round, No. 136 overall: O'Callaghan was a steady reserve for three seasons in Foxboro, minus a 2008 stint on the IR. He was released last September and picked up by the Chiefs. Clearly, Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli liked what he saw.
Defensive end/linebacker Jeremy Mincey, sixth round, No. 191 overall: The Florida product was part of the September roster cuts and hooked up with the 49ers. Mincey has been with the Jaguars since December of 2006.
Guard Dan Stevenson, sixth round, No. 205 overall: He spent about half of his rookie season on the Patriots practice squad before getting cut. The Notre Dame product has since spent time with the Dolphins and Texans.
Defensive lineman Le Kevin Smith, sixth round, No. 206 overall: Smith served as a backup defensive lineman and special teamer for three years in New England before he was traded to the Broncos during the 2009 preseason.
Defensive back Willie Andrews, seventh round, No. 229 overall: Andrews was a very good special teamer for the Patriots in 2007, working as a gunner and seldom-used kick returner (though he returned one of his four kickoffs for a touchdown). But two days after the Patriots' Super Bowl loss, Andrews was arrested in Lowell, Mass., on marijuana charges. He was released by the Patriots in July of 2008, and he now plays in the United Football League.
Who They Missed
Running backs who were selected after Maroney include the following: DeAngelo Williams (Panthers, No. 27), Joseph Addai (Colts, No. 30), Maurice Jones-Drew (Jaguars, No. 60), Jerious Norwood (Falcons, No. 79) and Leon Washington (Jets, No. 117). And here are some wideouts who were taken after Jackson: Sinorice Moss (Giants, No. 44), Jennings, Brandon Marshall (Broncos, No. 119) and Marques Colston (Saints, No. 252). It's also worth noting that Devin Hester was selected at No. 57. Hester, who is a dynamite returner, began his career with the Bears as a cornerback but has since become a decent wideout.
And who knows if the Patriots were looking in this direction, but there were some interesting picks later in this draft, such as linebacker DeMeco Ryans (Texans, No. 33), safety Roman Harper (Saints, No. 43), tackle Marcus McNeill (Chargers, No. 50), tight end Tony Scheffler (Broncos, No. 61), safety Eric Smith (Jets, No. 97), tight end Owen Daniels (Texans, No. 98), tackle Jahri Evans (Saints, No. 108), defensive end/linebacker Elvis Dumervil (Broncos, No. 126), safety Dawan Landry (Ravens, No. 146), safety Antoine Bethea (Colts, No. 207) and cornerback Cortland Finnegan (Titans, No. 215).
This could definitely be considered Belichick's worst draft in New England. He didn't land any offensive or defensive stars, and he didn't acquire any future draft assets via trade. Belichick also left more talented running backs and receivers on the board while making his first two selections. He made some mistakes — particularly by trading up for Jackson — and there is plenty of room for second-guessing throughout the Patriots' 2006 draft class.