Breaking Down Patriots’ Drafts Position By Position, Round By Round

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Are the New England Patriots more likely to draft a tackle in the third round or the fifth round? A tight end on Day 2 or Day 3? A cornerback or a safety?

These are the types of questions we set out to answer this week.

With the 2020 NFL Draft set to begin next Thursday, we pored over each of Bill Belichick’s first 20 Patriots drafts to see how many players at each position he has selected, and in which rounds.

Some of our findings — like New England’s inability to draft decent defensive backs in the second round — were expected. Others were eye-opening.

Note: A few of the front-seven defenders listed below lined up in multiple spots, so to keep things simple, they’re categorized by the position listed on their Pro-Football-Reference page. 

Quarterback (Total: 11)
Round 1: Zero
Round 2: 1 (Jimmy Garoppolo)
Round 3: 3 (Jacoby Brissett, Ryan Mallett, Kevin O?Connell)
Round 4: 2 (Jarrett Stidham, Rohan Davey)
Round 5: Zero
Round 6: 2 (Kilff Kingsbury, Tom Brady)
Round 7: 3 (Danny Etling, Zac Robinson, Matt Cassel)

Outside of fullback and special teams, quarterback is the only position the Patriots have not addressed in the first round during Belichick’s tenure. Will that change now that Brady, their starter since 2001, is plying his trade down in Tampa Bay? Even if it doesn’t, the Patriots likely will take a quarterback at some point in this year’s draft to compete with 2019 fourth-rounder Stidham and veteran Brian Hoyer this summer.

Running back (10)
Round 1: 2 (Sony Michel, Laurence Maroney)
Round 2: 1 (Shane Vereen)
Round 3: 3 (Damien Harris, Stevan Ridley, J.R. Redmond)
Round 4: 2 (James White, Cedric Cobbs)
Round 5: Zero
Round 6: 1 (Justise Hairston)
Round 7: 1 (Antoine Womack)

Running back ranks near the bottom of the Patriots’ list of draft needs, so it’d be surprising to see them expend more than a late-round pick on the position. It also was interesting to see how they’ve essentially ignored backs after Round 4, especially in the last decade or so. Womack and Hairston were drafted in 2002 and 2007, respectively. 

Fullback (3)
Round 1: Zero
Round 2: Zero
Round 3: Zero
Round 4: 1 (Garrett Mills)
Round 5: Zero
Round 6: Zero
Round 7: 2 (Spencer Nead, Patrick Pass)

With James Develin, Jakob Johnson and newcomer Danny Vitale all on the roster, we doubt the Patriots will draft a fullback. They haven’t done so since selecting Mills in 2006.

Wide receiver (17)
Round 1: 1 (N?Keal Harry)
Round 2: 4 (Aaron Dobson, Chad Jackson, Bethel Johnson, Deion Branch)
Round 3: 2 (Taylor Price, Brandon Tate)
Round 4: 2 (Malcolm Mitchell, Josh Boyce)
Round 5: 2 (Matthew Slater, P.K. Sam)
Round 6: 1 (Braxton Berrios)
Round 7: 5 (Devin Lucien, Jeremy Gallon, Jeremy Ebert, Julian Edelman, David Givens)

It took Belichick 19 years to draft a receiver in the first round, which he finally did by nabbing Harry at No. 32 overall last year. Overall, drafting wideouts has not been Belichick’s strong suit, and two of his better picks (Edelman and Givens) came on seventh-round fliers. Branch was the only definitive hit in the early rounds, though Harry still has time to change that narrative. 

Tight end (12)
Round 1: 2 (Ben Watson, Daniel Graham)
Round 2: 1 (Rob Gronkowski)
Round 3: 1 (David Thomas)
Round 4: 2 (Aaron Hernandez, Jabari Holloway)
Round 5: 2 (Lee Smith, Dave Stachelski)
Round 6: 2 (A.J. Derby, Arther Love)
Round 7: 2 (Ryan Izzo, Andy Stokes)

The Patriots haven’t drafted a tight end above the fifth round since doubling up with Gronkowski and Hernadez in 2010, and they’ve selected just two in the last eight drafts (Izzo in 2018, Derby in 2015). That’ll likely change this year, as they currently have just Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo on their depth chart. This year’s top tight end prospects (Cole Kmet, Adam Trautman, Harrison Bryant etc.) are projected as Day 2 picks. 

Offensive tackle (15)
Round 1: 2 (Isaiah Wynn, Nate Solder)
Round 2: 2 (Sebastian Vollmer, Matt Light)
Round 3: 2 (Yodny Cajuste, Antonio Garcia)
Round 4: 3 (Cameron Fleming, Kenyatta Jones, Greg Randall)
Round 5: 4 (Marcus Cannon, George Bussey, Clint Oldenberg, Ryan O?Callaghan)
Round 6: 1 (Conor McDermott)
Round 7: 1 (Thomas Welch)

Top-heavy group here. Of the players drafted after Round 2, only Cannon became a multi-year starter for New England (though the jury’s still out on Cajuste, last year’s third-rounder). The Patriots have had great success with early-round tackles, though. Wynn still needs to prove he can stay healthy, but Solder, Vollmer and Light all were excellent picks. 

Interior offensive line (14)
Round 1: 1 (Logan Mankins)
Round 2: 1 (Adrian Klemm)
Round 3: 1 (Joe Thuney)
Round 4: 5 (Hjalte Froholdt, Tre? Jackson, Shaq Mason, Bryan Stork, Rich Ohrnberger)
Round 5: 1 (Dan Koppen)
Round 6: 4 (Ted Karras, Jon Halapio, Ted Larsen, Dan Stevenson)
Round 7: 1 (Mike Elgin)

Unlike tackle, the Patriots have found a bunch of quality guards and centers in the mid-to-late rounds. First-rounder Mankins is the obvious headliner, but Thuney, Mason, Stork, Koppen and Karras all became good or great players for New England. Nearly half of the Patriots’ interior O-line draft picks have come in the fourth round.  

More Patriots: Where Bill Belichick Finds His New England Draft Picks

Defensive tackle (13)
Round 1: 3 (Malcom Brown, Dominque Easley, Vince Wilfork)
Round 2: 1 (Ron Brace)
Round 3: 1 (Vincent Valentine)
Round 4: 2 (Kareem Brown, Dan Klecko)
Round 5: 2 (Byron Cowart, Jeff Marriott)
Round 6: 2 (Myron Pryor, Le Kevin Smith)
Round 7: 2 (Cade Weston, Ethan Kelley)

This group would look a lot more impressive if it included Richard Seymour and Ty Warren, but they’re listed as defensive ends here. Outside of those two and Wilfork, all of whom were drafted in 2004 or earlier, the Patriots haven’t had great luck finding quality D-tackles through the draft. Brown was a solid player, but Belichick was happy to let him walk after his rookie contract. Easley is one of the biggest draft busts in Patriots history.

Defensive end (14)
Round 1: 3 (Chandler Jones, Ty Warren, Richard Seymour)
Round 2: 1 (Marquise Hill)
Round 3: 3 (Chase Winovich, Derek Rivers, Jake Bequette)
Round 4: 3 (Deatrich Wise, Trey Flowers, Jarvis Green)
Round 5: Zero
Round 6: 2 (Zach Moore, Jeremy Mincey)
Round 7: 2 (Michael Buchanan, Brandon Deaderick)

The Patriots have hit on D-ends in nearly every round during Belichick’s tenure. Jones, Warren, Seymour, Winovich, Wise, Flowers, Green, Mincey and Deaderick all became, at the very least, useful NFL players, though Mincey’s emergence came after New England released him. The Patriots haven’t drafted an edge rusher in the first round since Jones in 2012. 

Linebacker (23)
Round 1: 2 (Dont?a Hightower, Jerod Mayo)
Round 2: 3 (Jamie Collins, Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Spikes)
Round 3: 2 (Tyrone McKenzie, Shawn Crable)
Round 4: Zero
Round 5: 3 (Ja?Whaun Bentley, Ryan Claridge, Hakim Akbar)
Round 6: 7 (Christian Sam, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Elandon Roberts, Matthew Wells, Markell Carter, Bo Ruud, Justin Rogers)
Round 7: 6 (Xzavier Dickson, Steve Beauharnais, Oscar Lua, Tully Banta-Cain, T.J. Turner, Casey Tisdale)

If there’s one position the Patriots love targeting in the final two rounds, its linebacker. They’ve drafted 13 with sixth- or seventh-round picks since 2000; only one other position has more than six (cornerback, nine). They’re also typically accurate with their early-round ‘backer selections. Hightower and Mayo were smash hits, and Collins and Spikes were solid grabs in Round 2. In our estimation, linebacker is the Patriots’ second-biggest need behind tight end entering this year’s draft. 

Cornerback (21)
Round 1: 1 (Devin McCourty)
Round 2: 6 (Joejuan Williams, Duke Dawson, Cyrus Jones, Ras-I Dowling, Darius Butler, Terrence Wheatley)
Round 3: 3 (Logan Ryan, Ellis Hobbs, Brock Williams)
Round 4: 2 (Jonathan Wilhite, Asante Samuel)
Round 5: Zero
Round 6: 3 (Jemea Thomas, Mike Richardson, Leonard Myers)
Round 7: 6 (Ken Webster, Keion Crossen, Darryl Roberts, Alfonzo Dennard, Malcolm Williams, Christian Morton)

Boy, that list of second-rounders is ugly. New England’s lone first-round cornerback (McCourty) later moved to safety. The Patriots don’t have a need at corner this year — they’re as strong and deep there as any team in the NFL — but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them grab one in the later rounds, as they’ve done in each of the last two drafts (Webster, Crossen) and four of the last six. It’s odd how few of these late-rounders have stuck, though, considering how successful the Patriots have been at identifying undrafted cornerbacks (Malcolm Butler, Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson, Kenny Moore, etc.).

Safety (12)
Round 1: 1 (Brandon Meriweather)
Round 2: 4 (Jordan Richards, Tavon Wilson, Patrick Chung, Eugene Wilson)
Round 3: 2 (Duron Harmon, Guss Scott)
Round 4: 2 (James Sanders, Dexter Reid)
Round 5: Zero
Round 6: 2 (Nate Ebner, Antwan Harris)
Round 7: 1 (Willie Andrews)

The Patriots haven?t drafted a safety since taking Richards 64th overall in 2015. They have a need there with Harmon now in Detroit and McCourty and Chung about to turn 33. 

Specialists (6)
Round 1: None
Round 2: None
Round 3: None
Round 4: 1 (K Stephen Gostkowski)
Round 5: 3 (P Jake Bailey, LS Joe Cardona, P Zoltan Mesko)
Round 6: 1 (LS Jake Ingram)
Round 7: 1 (K Owen Pochman)

The Patriots don’t love drafting in the fifth round, but it’s their sweet spot for specialists. That?s where they found Bailey last year, and he went on to have a strong rookie season. Expect New England to draft a kicker this year to replace Gostkowski, whom they released last month. 

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