The New England Patriots don’t lose football games very often. And when they do all sorts of crazy theories and hypotheses on why they struggled are thrown around all willy-nilly.
One of the latest is the Patriots’ lack of recent success at finding high-quality players through the draft has finally come back to bite them. So, is it true?
There’s an easy case to make since the Patriots didn’t have a first-round pick in 2016 because of Deflategate punishment. The Patriots selected cornerback/returner Cyrus Jones with their top pick in the second round, and he subsequently struggled as a rookie and is out for the 2017 season with a torn ACL. The Patriots traded their 2017 first-round pick for wide receiver Brandin Cooks, then traded down from the second round into the third for defensive end Kony Ealy, who has since been released. They traded down again to grab defensive end Derek Rivers, who also is out for the season with a torn ACL.
Only one selection from the 2017 NFL Draft, defensive end Deatrich Wise, currently is on the Patriots’ 53-man roster.
Throw in the fact the Patriots traded away their top picks from the 2012 (Chandler Jones) and 2013 (Jamie Collins) drafts and cut 2014 first-round pick Dominique Easley, and the idea, on the surface, has some merit.
(It’s worth noting Jones and Collins both already have been gone in free agency, and the Patriots won a Super Bowl after they left.)
But how much?
The Patriots have 25 players on their roster that were drafted by the team. They have another 10 who originally signed with the team as undrafted free agents. Among those 35 players, 15 started Thursday night’s game against the Chiefs. It also includes their three specialists, running back James White, who played 43 snaps and must be considered at least a pseudo-starter, and two of the best special teamers in the NFL, Matthew Slater and Nate Ebner.
Some have argued the Patriots lack talented depth on their roster. It seems the rest of the NFL disagrees since the Patriots had a league-high four players claimed off waivers after roster cuts. A fifth, running back D.J. Foster, was signed off the Patriots’ practice squad by the Arizona Cardinals on Monday. And a sixth, cornerback Justin Coleman, was traded to the Seattle Seahawks before cuts.
It hurts that Easley (who had known knee issues at the time of his selection) and Ealy are gone and that Jones and Rivers are done for the season. It also hurts that 2016 fourth-round pick Malcolm Mitchell, who also had a history of knee injuries, is on injured reserve.
But the Patriots have been able to find impressive talent in the middle rounds, which is something head coach Bill Belichick was perceived to struggle with early in his career. Their starting left guard, Joe Thuney, and nickel defensive back, Duron Harmon, were third-round picks. They’ve found a star pass rusher in Trey Flowers, third-down back in White, their starting right guard, Shaq Mason, and a third-down pass rush specialist in Wise, in the fourth round. And their starting center, David Andrews, was an undrafted free agent.
And we haven’t even mentioned Rob Gronkowski, Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty, Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon or Tom Brady.
There’s also no way the Patriots could have acquired a player as talented as Cooks late in the first round of the 2017 draft.
The Patriots also have filled out their depth with draft picks and rookie free agents in quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, defensive tackles Vincent Valentine and Adam Butler, linebackers Elandon Roberts and Harvey Langi and cornerback Jonathan Jones.
The Patriots chose to give up draft picks for players like running back Mike Gillislee, tight end Dwayne Allen, linebacker Kyle Van Noy and cornerback Eric Rowe. Van Noy is the only starter in that bunch, but the rest are better depth options than the Patriots could find in the mid-to-later rounds of the draft.
Many questions surrounding the 2017 Patriots will look foolish when they go 12-4 and win their division again this season. This one might be worth revisiting two or three years down the line. But for now, homegrown talent can only be viewed as a strength for the Patriots.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images
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