Can Bill Belichick Still Draft? How Patriots Have Fared Last Five Years

Are the Patriots' recent perceived draft struggles accurate?

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There’s a recent perception that Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are constantly whiffing in the NFL draft like they’re walking up to the plate playing dizzy bat.

And it must be recent because Belichick is the same person who brought quarterback Tom Brady, defensive lineman Richard Seymour and tight end Rob Gronkowski, among a slew of other talented players to New England over the last 21 years.

But the Patriots’ drop off from going 12-4 and winning the AFC East in 2019 to finishing 7-9 and out of the postseason a year later is commonly blamed on Belichick’s draft misses.

So, is it true, and is that fair? Has Belichick lost the ability to find talented players through the cheapest and most efficient means to build a team? Or is it all a bunch of nonsense?

I did the research so you don’t have to.

Here’s a glossary of stats I devised to determine how much value teams are extracting specifically from the draft using Pro Football Focus’ Approximate Value, or AV, metric:

Value Rate: Team or player AV divided by total draft class AV

This is percent of value teams are drawing out of the draft.

Value Rate+: Value Rate where average=100

This is a simpler way of looking at Value Rate. Think of it like ERA+ or OPS+ if you’re a baseball fan.

Value Vs. Expected rate: How a player’s Value Rate compares to the expected Value Rate from his draft slot

This is a gauge of how efficiently teams are using their draft picks.

AV is not a perfect stat. But it is the best, easiest and most uniform metric to use for a broad exercise like this one.

2016-2020

The Patriots rank 26th in Value Rate and 24th in Value Vs. Expected Rate from 2016 to 2020. So, it’s definitely true that Belichick’s drafts in recent years have suffered from a lack of quality picks.

RkTeamValue RateValue Rate+RkAvg. Value Vs. Expected
1BAL4.65%148.820.09%
2IND4.19%134.0850.08%
3MIA3.79%121.2870.05%
4CLE3.62%115.8429-0.08%
5BUF3.48%111.3630.09%
6SF3.45%110.416-0.01%
7MIN3.40%108.8110.02%
8JAX3.38%108.1617-0.01%
9WFT3.32%106.24120.02%
10DAL3.27%104.6480.04%
10NYG3.27%104.6418-0.02%
12LAC3.24%103.68100.03%
13SEA3.22%103.0419-0.02%
14DEN3.14%100.4826-0.03%
15TB3.12%99.8420-0.02%
17NO3.11%99.5210.12%
17DET3.11%99.5221-0.02%
18KC3.08%98.5640.09%
19TEN3.05%97.622-0.02%
20CHI3.03%96.9660.06%
20CIN3.03%96.9628-0.06%
22GB3.01%96.3223-0.02%
23CAR2.98%95.36140.01%
24ATL2.85%91.290.04%
25PIT2.79%89.28130.02%
26NE2.65%84.824-0.02%
26LV2.65%84.832-0.12%
28LAR2.61%83.52150.00%
29HOU2.43%77.7625-0.02%
30NYJ2.42%77.4430-0.10%
31PHI2.41%77.1227-0.03%
32ARI2.24%71.6831-0.10%

Now, let’s go year by year to see how the Patriots fared with each class.

2020

Check out Part 1 of this series to see a deep dive of charts and metrics from the 2020 NFL Draft:

To recap: The Patriots ranked 16th in Value Rate and 22nd in Value Vs. Expected rate one season into an average 2020 NFL Draft class.

2019

In 2019, Belichick uncharacteristically drafted a wide receiver, N’Keal Harry, in the first round for the first time since he became head coach and general manager of the Patriots in 2000. So far, it’s not going especially well for Harry. The Patriots traded up to take cornerback Joejuan Williams in the second round, grabbed outside linebacker Chase Winovich, running back Damien Harris and offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste in the third round, guard Hjalte Froholdt and quarterback Jarrett Stidham in the fourth round, defensive tackle Byron Cowart and punter Jake Bailey in the fifth round and cornerback Ken Webster in the seventh round.

PlayerValue RateValue Rate+Value Vs. Expected
N’Keal Harry0.32%81.15-0.44%
Joejuan Williams0.16%40.58-0.49%
Chase Winovich0.80%202.880.31%
Damien Harris0.40%101.44-0.02%
Yodny Cajuste0.00%0.00-0.38%
Hjalte Froholdt0.00%0.00-0.31%
Jarrett Stidham0.08%20.29-0.20%
Byron Cowart0.64%162.300.41%
Jake Bailey0.40%101.440.18%
Ken Webster0.16%40.580.09%

Bailey, a 2020 All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection, has been the Patriots’ best find but that’s not illustrated in his Value Rate simply because punters don’t generate much value. Winovich, Harris and Cowart also have been above average draft picks. It hurts the Patriots that Cajuste, Froholdt, Stidham and Webster have barely played.

Harry (244th of 255 players) and Williams (248th) are two of the worst values vs. expectation in the 2019 NFL Draft class. Williams is the worst value among second-round picks. Harry is the fifth-worst value among first-round picks.

Still, the Patriots’ 2019 draft class ranks roughly average at 18th in Value Rate and 25th in Value vs. Expectation rate.

RkTeamValue RateValue Rate+GMRKAvg. Value Vs. Expected
1OAK5.35%171.25Mike Mayock80.06%
2NYG4.87%155.91Dave Gettleman120.04%
3TB4.79%153.35Jason Licht10.16%
4WFT4.63%148.24Bruce Allen50.09%
5ARI4.55%145.69Steve Keim18-0.02%
6TEN4.47%143.13Jon Robinson40.14%
7BUF4.15%132.91Brandon Beane110.05%
8SF4.15%132.91John Lynch80.06%
9MIN3.75%120.13Rick Spielman130.03%
10GB3.59%115.02Brian Gutekunst19-0.03%
11JAX3.59%115.02Tom Coughlin130.03%
12SEA3.43%109.90John Schneider23-0.05%
13BAL3.12%99.68Eric DeCosta80.06%
14DEN3.04%97.12John Elway19-0.03%
15MIA3.04%97.12Chris Grier30.15%
16ATL2.96%94.57Thomas Dimitroff17-0.01%
17KC2.96%94.57Brett Veach10.16%
18NE2.96%94.57Bill Belichick25-0.08%
19PIT2.88%92.01Kevin Colbert22-0.04%
20HOU2.80%89.46Brian Gaine19-0.03%
21LAR2.80%89.46Les Snead130.03%
22DET2.72%86.90Bob Quinn25-0.08%
23IND2.56%81.79Chris Ballard27-0.09%
24CIN2.40%76.68Mike Brown29-0.13%
25CLE2.16%69.01John Dorsey160.00%
26NYJ2.08%66.45Mike Maccagnan30-0.13%
27LAC1.92%61.34Tom Telesco27-0.09%
28CAR1.84%58.79Marty Hurney31-0.15%
29NO1.84%58.79Mickey Loomis50.09%
30DAL1.60%51.12Jerry Jones24-0.06%
31CHI1.52%48.56Ryan Pace70.07%
32PHI1.52%48.56Howie Roseman32-0.20%

Here’s a spreadsheet with metrics on every player drafted in 2019.

The Patriots also found wide receivers Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski, linebacker Terez Hall and defensive tackle Nick Thurman after the draft as rookie free agents. It’s not really the point of the exercise but if you incorporate all undrafted free agents whose first season came in 2019, then the Patriots’ 2019 rookie class hits an above-average threshold of a 3.43 Value Rate and a 109.6 Value Rate+.

Meyers, ironically, actually would have a positive Value Vs. Expected rate if taken where Harry was selected 32nd overall.

Discluding the Patriots’ UDFAs, we’d give the New England’s draft class a C+. Include the undrafted players, and it becomes a B.

The Patriots also traded 2019 draft picks for wide receiver Josh Gordon, defensive tackle Danny Shelton and cornerback Johnson Bademosi.

Without the context of every trade involving draft picks all 31 other NFL teams made, we’d prefer to judge draft classes in a vacuum based on value rate and value over expectation. The Patriots’ ability to acquire veteran players is much less in doubt, a different skill and tougher to gauge in a value metric. But at the very least, we’ll note the veteran players acquired via draft capital.

2018

The Patriots traded wide receiver Brandin Cooks (we’ll get into how they acquired him next) to the Los Angeles Rams for the 23rd overall pick and selected offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn. They grabbed running back Sony Michel in the first round, cornerback Duke Dawson in the second round, linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley in the fifth round, linebacker Christian Sam and wide receiver Braxton Berrios in the sixth round and quarterback Danny Etling, cornerback Keion Crossen and tight end Ryan Izzo in the seventh round.

PlayerValue RateValue Rate+Value Vs. Expected
Isaiah Wynn0.38%97.06-0.50%
Sony Michel0.71%181.99-0.07%
Duke Dawson0.14%36.40-0.43%
Ja’Whaun Bentley0.62%157.730.36%
Christian Sam0.00%0.00-0.20%
Braxton Berrios0.19%48.530.05%
Danny Etling0.00%0.00-0.13%
Keion Crossen0.19%48.530.10%
Ryan Izzo0.14%36.400.06%

Michel and Bentley are the most valuable players New England selected in this year’s class. This class perfectly illustrates the difference between Value Rate and Value Vs. Expected rate. The Patriots extracted more value out of the entire draft by taking Michel, but Izzo was a better value for where he was taken. Michel has been a good player, but the also hasn’t been worth the 31st overall pick. Izzo has been an OK player who should have gone higher than pick 250.

Overall, this is a weaker class for the Patriots despite having two first-round picks, ranking 22nd in Value Rate and 26th in Value Vs. Expected rate.

RkTeamValue RateValue Rate+GMRkAvg. Value Vs. Expected
1BAL7.73%247.20Ozzie Newsome10.30%
2IND7.30%233.55Chris Ballard20.21%
3CLE4.88%156.21John Dorsey28-0.11%
4BUF4.74%151.66Brandon Beane30.16%
5SF4.31%138.01John Lynch60.08%
6MIA4.17%133.46Chris Grier50.12%
7TB3.65%116.78Jason Licht20-0.04%
8CHI3.60%115.26Ryan Pace80.04%
9DEN3.51%112.23John Elway22-0.06%
10CIN3.32%106.16Mike Brown16-0.03%
11ATL3.27%104.64Thomas Dimitroff40.14%
12DAL3.18%101.61Jerry Jones100.00%
13OAK3.13%100.09Reggie McKenzie21-0.05%
14NYG2.94%94.03Dave Gettleman29-0.13%
15GB2.80%89.48Brian Gutekunst22-0.06%
16CAR2.75%87.96Marty Hurney16-0.03%
17LAC2.70%86.45Tom Telesco15-0.02%
18DET2.65%84.93Bob Quinn11-0.01%
19SEA2.61%83.41John Schneider16-0.03%
20JAX2.51%80.38Tom Coughlin90.02%
21MIN2.46%78.86Rick Spielman11-0.01%
22WFT2.37%75.83Bruce Allen24-0.07%
22NE2.37%75.83Bill Belichick26-0.08%
24PIT2.32%74.31Kevin Colbert24-0.07%
25LAR2.23%71.28Les Snead11-0.01%
26HOU2.09%66.73Brian Gaine16-0.03%
26ARI2.09%66.73Steve Keim27-0.09%
28TEN1.94%62.18Jon Robinson11-0.01%
29NYJ1.85%59.15Mike Maccagnan29-0.13%
30PHI1.75%56.11Howie Roseman70.06%
31NO1.47%47.01Mickey Loomis29-0.13%
32KC1.33%42.46Brett Veach32-0.14%

Here’s a spreadsheet with metrics on every player drafted in 2018.

The Patriots signed cornerback JC Jackson as an undrafted free agent. Including Jackson, and all of the value generated from 2019 UDFAs, only bumps the Patriots’ Value Rate up to 2.42 for a 77.3 Value Rate+.

This draft class gets a C- so far. Wynn has a chance to improve it if he can stay healthy and continue to serve as the Patriots’ left tackle.

The Patriots also traded 2018 picks for offensive tackle Trent Brown, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, cornerback Jason McCourty, defensive end Cassius Marsh, linebacker Marquis Flowers and cornerback Eric Rowe. They traded quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for a second-round pick. The Patriots come out favorable in their veteran trades.

2017

This is the most difficult Patriots draft class to grade because there are so many variables in play. On its surface, this is one of the absolute worst draft classes of the last 21 years, ranking 659th out of 671 classes in Value Rate.

That’s … pretty awful.

The Patriots traded their first-round pick and a third-round pick to the New Orleans Saints for one year of Cooks and a fourth-round pick, however. They traded their second-round pick for defensive end Kony Ealy and an early third-round pick. They also traded linebacker Jamie Collins for a third-round pick.

The Patriots traded down to take defensive end Derek Rivers in the third round and back up to take offensive tackle Antonio Garcia.

They traded a fourth-round pick for tight end Dwayne Allen and a sixth-round pick. They traded a fifth-round pick for tight end James O’Shaughnessy and a sixth-round pick. They had previously traded a fifth-round pick for linebacker Barkevious Mingo, a sixth-round pick for linebacker Kyle Van Noy and a seventh-round pick (one of the best trades in NFL history), and acquired a fifth-round pick for tight end A.J. Derby.

The Patriots grabbed defensive end Deatrich Wise in the fourth round and offensive tackle Conor McDermott in the sixth round.

PlayerValue RateValue Rate+Value Vs. Expected
Derek Rivers0.08%19.33-0.37%
Antonio Garcia0.00%0.00-0.44%
Deatrich Wise Jr.0.65%164.290.37%
Conor McDermott0.08%19.33-0.07%

Wise was a nice find. Rivers, Garcia and McDermott were decidedly not.

RkTeamValue RateValue Rate+GMRkAvg. Value Vs. Expected
1NO7.03%224.90Mickey Loomis10.43%
2LAC4.62%147.90Tom Telesco40.20%
3BUF4.28%136.90Doug Whaley20.26%
4HOU4.20%134.45Rick Smith50.19%
5CLE4.09%130.79Sashi Brown27-0.12%
6CAR4.05%129.56Dave Gettleman90.10%
7KC4.01%128.34John Dorsey30.23%
7PIT4.01%128.34Kevin Colbert60.15%
7MIN4.01%128.34Rick Spielman90.10%
10SF3.71%118.56John Lynch17-0.04%
11LAR3.59%114.90Les Snead80.12%
12IND3.55%113.67Chris Ballard110.07%
12SEA3.55%113.67John Schneider13-0.01%
14CHI3.51%112.45Ryan Pace70.14%
15GB3.36%107.56Ted Thompson120.02%
16WFT3.28%105.12Bruce Allen13-0.01%
17TEN3.09%99.01Jon Robinson19-0.07%
18CIN2.94%94.12Mike Brown21-0.09%
19JAX2.79%89.23Tom Coughlin19-0.07%
20DET2.75%88.01Bob Quinn15-0.03%
21BAL2.67%85.56Ozzie Newsome21-0.09%
22NYJ2.48%79.45Mike Maccagnan25-0.11%
23NYG2.33%74.56Jerry Reese15-0.03%
24ARI2.29%73.34Steve Keim25-0.11%
25DAL2.22%70.89Jerry Jones18-0.05%
26PHI2.10%67.23Howie Roseman30-0.14%
27MIA1.95%62.34Chris Grier21-0.09%
27TB1.95%62.34Jason Licht27-0.12%
29DEN1.83%58.67John Elway31-0.15%
30ATL1.72%55.00Thomas Dimitroff24-0.10%
31OAK1.22%39.11Reggie McKenzie32-0.17%
32NE0.80%25.67Bill Belichick29-0.13%

Here’s a spreadsheet with metrics on every player drafted in 2017.

The Patriots predictably rank dead last in Value Rate for that four-man draft class and only slightly better in value over expected rate. They also found defensive tackle Adam Butler as an undrafted free agent. As far as rookie acquisition goes, this class gets a D with Butler included and a D- without him. It’s rough all around.

Throw in the one-year addition of Cooks, plus Allen and Van Noy’s contributions, the wasted capital on Ealy, Mingo and O’Shaughnessy and giving away 2 1/2 seasons of Collins, and, overall, this draft looks better.

The Cooks trade was a good one. The Patriots essentially rented Cooks for free while trading a 2017 first-round pick for a 2018 first-round pick.

2016

The Patriots’ latest above-average draft class came five years ago, and New England did it without the benefit of a first-round pick, which they lost as part of their punishment for Deflategate.

The Patriots traded defensive end Chandler Jones for a second-round pick that they then flipped to pick Joe Thuney and Malcolm Mitchell.

PlayerValue RateValue Rate+Value Vs. Expected
Cyrus Jones0.13%31.85-0.44%
Joe Thuney1.29%326.500.81%
Jacoby Brissett0.72%183.160.32%
Vincent Valentine0.09%23.89-0.30%
Malcolm Mitchell0.13%31.85-0.20%
Kamu Grugier-Hill0.41%103.530.27%
Elandon Roberts0.85%215.010.71%
Ted Karras0.60%151.310.47%
Devin Lucien0.00%0.00-0.12%

The Mitchell pick ranks low, but he helped New England win a Super Bowl, which is obviously invaluable.

The Patriots hit on Thuney (big), Brissett, Grugier-Hill, Roberts and Karras. Brissett and Grugier-Hill wound up producing for other teams, however.

Still, this was the fourth-most valuable class of the 2016 NFL Draft by either metric.

RkTeamValue RateValue Rate+GMRkAvg. Value Vs. Expected
1DAL6.11%195.40Jerry Jones10.26%
2TEN5.07%162.17Jon Robinson110.05%
3JAX4.44%142.02David Caldwell40.17%
4NE4.22%134.97Bill Belichick40.17%
6CHI4.12%131.95Ryan Pace110.05%
5BAL4.12%131.95Ozzie Newsome18-0.03%
7ATL4.09%130.94Thomas Dimitroff20.25%
9KC4.06%129.93John Dorsey90.08%
8CLE4.06%129.93Sashi Brown24-0.10%
10GB3.93%125.90Ted Thompson60.16%
11PHI3.81%121.88Howie Roseman70.14%
14NO3.68%117.85Mickey Loomis30.21%
13MIA3.68%117.85Chris Grier130.05%
12DET3.68%117.85Bob Quinn140.03%
15IND3.65%116.84Ryan Grigson90.08%
16SEA3.62%115.83John Schneider140.03%
17DEN3.43%109.79John Elway80.09%
18NYJ2.80%89.64Mike Maccagnan170.01%
19CIN2.77%88.64Mike Brown160.02%
20SDG2.52%80.58Tom Telesco25-0.13%
21SF2.52%80.58Trent Baalke25-0.13%
22NYG2.49%79.57Jerry Reese23-0.09%
23HOU2.39%76.55Rick Smith20-0.05%
24LAR2.39%76.55Les Snead22-0.07%
25PIT2.20%70.51Kevin Colbert19-0.04%
26CAR1.86%59.43Dave Gettleman21-0.06%
27OAK1.67%53.38Reggie McKenzie31-0.20%
28WFT1.54%49.35Scot McCloughan27-0.15%
29BUF1.51%48.35Doug Whaley29-0.19%
30TB1.48%47.34Jason Licht32-0.25%
31MIN1.16%37.27Rick Spielman28-0.18%
32ARI0.91%29.21Steve Keim29-0.19%

Here’s a spreadsheet with metrics on every player drafted in 2016.

We’ll give the Patriots an A- for this draft.

The Jones trade is an example of why we don’t necessarily want to include trades for veteran players as part of our grades because there are so many variables involved. The Patriots traded Jones and wound up with Thuney.

Earlier, they traded for Cooks, missed out on Saints offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk then flipped the wide receiver and wound up with Wynn. Most trades also wind up as short-term rentals, and veteran players cost considerably more money than rookies.

GENERAL MANAGERS

Now, let’s take a look at where Belichick ranks among general managers in this timeframe.

RkYearsTeamValue RateValue Rate+GMRkValue Vs. Expected
12016-2018BAL4.84%154.9Ozzie Newsome50.09%
22020WFT4.76%152.38Ron Rivera10.21%
32019-2020BAL4.37%139.64Eric DeCosta40.11%
42017-2020IND4.33%138.55Chris Ballard60.08%
52016-2017CLE4.08%130.36Sashi Brown42-0.11%
62016, 2020JAX4.01%128.16David Caldwell26-0.02%
72018-2020BUF3.87%123.88Brandon Beane20.13%
82016-2020MIA3.79%121.28Chris Grier110.05%
92016-2019KC, CLE3.78%120.87John Dorsey130.04%
102017-2020SF3.68%117.78John Lynch160.03%
112016IND3.65%116.84Ryan Grigson60.08%
112016-2017GB3.65%116.73Ted Thompson60.08%
132019-2020RAI3.61%115.56Mike Mayock39-0.09%
142016-2020CAR/NYG3.49%111.73Dave Gettleman210.01%
152017-2019WFT3.43%109.73Bruce Allen210.01%
162016-2020MIN3.40%108.8Rick Spielman180.02%
172016-2017HOU3.30%105.5Rick Smith60.08%
182016-2020DAL3.27%104.48Jerry Jones130.04%
192016-2020LAC3.24%103.68Tom Telesco160.03%
202016-2020SEA3.22%103.04John Schneider26-0.02%
212016-2020DEN3.14%100.48John Elway32-0.03%
222016-2020TB3.12%99.84Jason Licht26-0.02%
232016-2020NO3.11%99.52Mickey Loomis30.12%
232016-2020DET3.11%99.52Bob Quinn26-0.02%
252016-2020TEN3.05%97.6Jon Robinson26-0.02%
262016-2020CHI3.03%96.96Ryan Pace100.06%
262016-2020CIN3.03%96.96Mike Brown36-0.06%
282018-2020CAR3.00%96.08Marty Hurney24-0.01%
292017-2019JAX2.96%94.88Tom Coughlin24-0.01%
302016-2017BUF2.90%92.63Doug Whaley180.02%
312020CLE2.89%92.52Andrew Berry35-0.04%
312020NYJ2.89%92.52Joe Douglas45-0.15%
332016-2020ATL2.85%91.2Thomas Dimitroff130.04%
342016-2020PIT2.79%89.36Kevin Colbert180.02%
352016-2020NE2.65%84.8Bill Belichick26-0.02%
362016-2020RAM2.61%83.52Les Snead230.00%
372018-2020GB2.58%82.68Brian Gutekunst38-0.08%
382016SF2.52%80.58Trent Baalke43-0.13%
392018-2020KC2.45%78.33Brett Veach110.05%
392018-2019HOU2.45%78.1Brian Gaine32-0.03%
412016-2020PHI2.41%77.12Howie Roseman32-0.03%
412016-2017NYG2.41%77.07Jerry Reese36-0.06%
432016-2019NYJ2.30%73.67Mike Maccagnan39-0.09%
442016-2020ARI2.24%71.68Steve Keim41-0.10%
452016-2018RAI2.01%64.19Reggie McKenzie44-0.14%
462016WFT1.54%49.35Scot McCloughan45-0.15%
472020HOU0.68%21.77Bill O’Brien47-0.23%

Ultimately, five years is a small sample size, but Belichick doesn’t rank particularly well compared to his contemporaries.

We’ll give a spoiler away for the next part of this series: Belichick ranks much higher looking ten years into the past with the 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015 included. And that’s not even including impressive draft classes in 2009 and 2010.

Belichick has hit on drafts in the recent past. But the last five years have not been particularly kind to the Patriots.

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