What We Can Learn From Patriots’ Round-By-Round Draft History

Breaking down Bill Belichick's 22 Patriots drafts

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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 2022 NFL Draft now less than a month away, we pored over each of Bill Belichick?s first 22 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. 2021 draft picks are listed in bold. The original version of this story was published on April 17, 2020.

Quarterback (Total: 12)
Round 1: 1 (Mac Jones)
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)

Jones was New England’s first first-round quarterback selection since Drew Bledsoe in 1993. The Patriots won’t be using another high pick on a QB after Jones impressed as a rookie, but they could look to add a developmental passer on Day 3. They often did so early in Brady’s tenure, drafting Davey in 2002, Kingsbury in 2003 and Cassel in 2005.

Running back (11)
Round 1: 2 (Sony Michel, Laurence Maroney)
Round 2: 1 (Shane Vereen)
Round 3: 3 (Damien Harris, Stevan Ridley, J.R. Redmond)
Round 4: 3 (Rhamondre Stevenson, James White, Cedric Cobbs)
Round 5: Zero
Round 6: 1 (Justise Hairston)
Round 7: 1 (Antoine Womack)

The Patriots have selected a running back in three of the last four drafts, with all of those picks coming in Round 4 or higher. They could take another this year with White coming off hip surgery and Harris entering the final year of his rookie contract.

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)

Jakob Johnson said the Patriots plan to eliminate the traditional fullback from their offense this season. We’ll see if that means abandoning the position entirely or morphing it into more of an athletic H-back type.

Wide receiver (18)
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: 6 (Tre Nixon, Devin Lucien, Jeremy Gallon, Jeremy Ebert, Julian Edelman, David Givens)

No position has stymied the Patriots in the NFL draft quite like receiver. Belichick and his staff simply have not been successful in evaluating wideout prospects, with only Branch and Edelman (and, to a lesser extent, Givens) developing into long-term offensive contributors. In recent years, nearly all of the Patriots’ receiver picks have come in the later rounds: Since 2013, the only one they’ve drafted on Day 1 or 2 is Harry, a 2019 first-round bust who’s unlikely to be on the roster this season. Harry is the only wideout Belichick has drafted in the first round. A third of his selections have been in Round 7. New England largely ignored talented receiver classes in each of the last two drafts, selecting only seventh-rounder Nixon. This year features another deep pool of wideout talent, and though the DeVante Parker trade lessened the Patriots’ need for help at the position, they could benefit from another addition.

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 nine straight years without drafting a tight end earlier than the fifth round before double-dipping on Asiasi and Keene in 2020. When neither showed much promise as a rookie, they spent big on free agents Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith last offseason. New England hasn’t had a true tight end hit in the draft since Gronkowski and Hernandez in 2010.

Offensive tackle (17)
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: 3 (Will Sherman, 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. Wynn might not last beyond his rookie deal, 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). The Patriots return both of their 2021 starting tackles, but with Wynn entering a contract year and he and Trent Brown both carrying lengthy injury histories, tackle is a sneaky need in this draft.

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. With Mason and Karras both exiting this offseason, New England currently has a glaring hole at one guard spot and could look to fill it through this year’s draft.

Defensive tackle (14)
Round 1: 3 (Malcom Brown, Dominque Easley, Vince Wilfork)
Round 2: 2 (Christian Barmore, 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 above-average 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. Barmore, though, seems to have broken that drought. He was great as a rookie and looks like a potential foundational piece in the Patriots’ front seven.

Defensive end (15)
Round 1: 3 (Chandler Jones, Ty Warren, Richard Seymour)
Round 2: 1 (Marquise Hill)
Round 3: 4 (Ronnie Perkins, 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. We’ll see on Perkins, who redshirted last season despite being largely healthy. The Patriots haven’t drafted a defensive end (or outside linebacker) in the first round since Jones in 2012. 

Linebacker (27)
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: 4 (Cameron McGrone, 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, however. Uche and Jennings in 2020 were their first on Day 1 or 2 since Collins in 2013. With a major current need at the position, it would be surprising if the Patriots didn’t take a linebacker in the first three rounds this year.

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)

The Patriots drafted six corners between 2015 and 2019 before taking the last two years off. The only one of those six who still is with the team is Williams, who’s wallowed near the bottom of the depth chart and will be a long shot to make the 2022 roster. 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, where they’ve consistently whiffed. Cornerback is arguably the Patriots’ greatest current need, so we could see them take another early-round swing this year. Potential targets include Washington’s Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon, Clemson’s Andrew Booth, Florida’s Kaiir Elam and Auburn’s Roger McCreary.

Safety (14)
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: 3 (Joshuah Bledsoe, Nate Ebner, Antwan Harris)
Round 7: 1 (Willie Andrews)

Richards and Tavon Wilson were high-profile misses, but the Patriots have found plenty of solid-or-better safeties through the draft. Safety is the deepest position group on their current roster, but Belichick could look to draft McCourty’s eventual replacement as the 34-year-old enters his 13th pro season.

Specialists (7)
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 fifth round is the Patriots’ sweet spot for kicking game-focused selections. They don’t have a need at any of the three specialist spots, but with Bailey’s salary shooting up to nearly $4 million this season thanks to a proven performance escalator, Belichick could look to swap him out for a much cheaper rookie. San Diego State’s Matt Araiza is this year’s top punting prospect and could be on New England’s Day 3 radar.

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