Are the New England Patriots more likely to draft a tackle in the third round or the fifth round? A linebacker early or late? A cornerback or a safety?
These are the types of questions we set out to answer this week.
With the 2021 NFL Draft now less than a month away, we pored over each of Bill Belichick?s first 21 Patriots drafts to see how many players at each position he has selected, and in which rounds.
Some of our findings 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. 2020 draft picks are listed in bold. The original version of this story was published on April 17, 2020.
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. Their highest-drafted QB is Garoppolo, who was the third-to-last pick of the second round (62nd overall) in 2014. Of course, New England never needed to spend premier draft capital on this position while Brady was running the show. But if there ever was a year to break that drought, this is it. The worthwhile signal-callers are likely to be off the board by the time the Patriots pick at No. 15 overall, though, so they’ll likely need to trade up if they hope to land Justin Fields, Trey Lance or Mac Jones. (Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson aren’t realistic targets.) After filling all of their immediate needs through free agency, they have the flexibility and assets necessary to do so. If they wait, Kyle Trask, Kellen Mond and Davis Mills are potential Day 2 targets. The Patriots currently have Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham and Jake Dolegala under contract, with Newton — the projected starter — on a team-friendly one-year deal.
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)
Patriots backs drafted outside of the first round often sit for a year before taking on more substantial roles as NFL sophomores (see: Vereen, White, Harris). New England could target a future contributor in this year’s draft with White back on a one-year deal and Michel entering a contract year if the Patriots decline his fifth-year option.
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)
The Patriots don’t have a need here with Jakob Johnson and 2020 opt-out Danny Vitale both under contract (and Dalton Keene potentially factoring into the fullback equation) but we could see Belichick taking a liking to Michigan’s Ben Mason, who also played on defense for the Wolverines.
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)
The Patriots have only drafted one first-round receiver in the Belichick era. Two years in, that pick looks like a mistake. Overall, Belichick has not been successful at finding wideout talent in the draft, with only Branch and Edelman (and, to a lesser extent, Givens) developing into long-term offensive contributors. New England ignored last year’s talented receiver class. This year’s is just as good, if not better. With Edelman’s injury status still unsettled and Harry a trade candidate, the Patriots could benefit from drafting another wideout, even after adding Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne in free agency. Alabama’s DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle would be enticing first-round options if either falls to the Patriots at No. 15, and there will be plenty of intriguing wideout prospects available in Rounds 2 through 4.
Tight end (14)
Round 1: 2 (Ben Watson, Daniel Graham)
Round 2: 1 (Rob Gronkowski)
Round 3: 3 (Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keene, 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 went a decade without drafting a tight end before the fifth round before they traded up for both Asiasi and Keene in the third last spring. The early returns on those picks have been … not particularly inspiring. Asiasi and Keene managed just five catches between them as rookies, and the Patriots’ decision to spend big money on free agents Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry means the 2020 draftees aren’t likely to see significant playing time in 2021.
Offensive tackle (16)
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: 2 (Justin Herron, 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. The Patriots have had great success with early-round tackles, though. Durability remains a concern for Wynn, who’s played in just 18 games over three seasons, but Solder, Vollmer and Light all were excellent picks. New England also hit big on 2020 sixth-rounder Mike Onwenu (listed as a guard here) and seems to have found a solid role player in Herron. With Trent Brown and potentially Wynn entering contract years, we wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots used an early pick on a tackle next month.
Interior offensive line (16)
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: 5 (Mike Onwenu, Ted Karras, Jon Halapio, Ted Larsen, Dan Stevenson)
Round 7: 2 (Dustin Woodard, Mike Elgin)
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, Karras and Onwenu 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. The Patriots are set at center after re-signing David Andrews for another four years but should look to bolster their guard depth with a 2021 draft pick.
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. This year’s defensive tackle class isn’t considered especially strong, with Alabama’s Christian Barmore standing out as the only first-round-caliber talent. Perhaps that’s why New England loaded up on D-linemen in free agency (Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson, Montravius Adams, Lawrence Guy).
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 a defensive end (or outside linebacker) in the first round since Jones in 2012.
Round 1: 2 (Dont?a Hightower, Jerod Mayo)
Round 2: 4 (Josh Uche, Jamie Collins, Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Spikes)
Round 3: 3 (Anfernee Jennings, Tyrone McKenzie, Shawn Crable)
Round 4: Zero
Round 5: 3 (Ja?Whaun Bentley, Ryan Claridge, Hakim Akbar)
Round 6: 8 (Cassh Maluia, 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 late on Day 3, it’s linebacker. They?ve drafted 14 with sixth- or seventh-round picks since 2000; only one other position has more than seven (cornerback, nine). Overall, the Patriots have drafted more players at linebacker than any other position, and sixth-round ‘backer is their most popular position/round pairing. They went years without drafting one early, though. Uche and Jennings last year were their first on Day 1 or 2 since Collins in 2013.
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)
The Patriots drafted six corners between 2015 and 2019 before taking a break last year. The only one of those six who still is with the team is Williams, who’s wallowed near the bottom of the depth chart in each of his first two pro seasons. For whatever reason, New England has been much better at finding corners in undrafted free agency (Malcolm Butler, Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson, etc.) than in the second round. With Stephon Gilmore (in need of an extension or trade), Jackson (RFA) and Jason McCourty (UFA) all not guaranteed to be with the team this season, cornerback is a potential draft need this year.
Round 1: 1 (Brandon Meriweather)
Round 2: 5 (Kyle Dugger, 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)
Dugger, the Patriots’ top pick last year, was the first safety they’d drafted since Richards in 2015. It’s still early, but the hard-hitting strong safety impressed as a rookie and has a good chance of breaking the Pats’ second-round DB curse. New England could look to draft its free safety of the future next month with Devin McCourty entering his age-34 season.
Round 1: None
Round 2: None
Round 3: None
Round 4: 1 (K Stephen Gostkowski)
Round 5: 4 (K Justin Rohrwasser, P Jake Bailey, LS Joe Cardona, P Zoltan Mesko)
Round 6: 1 (LS Jake Ingram)
Round 7: 1 (K Owen Pochman)
The Patriots use higher picks on specialists than most NFL teams, and those players typically pan out. Bailey, a 2019 fifth-rounder, was a first-team All-Pro last season. Rohrwasser, though, was a major whiff. He was the highest kicker drafted in 2020 and was cut after one season, the entirety of which he spent on the practice squad.