New England Patriots: 10 Biggest NFL Draft Mistakes in Patriots History
In the 2003 NFL draft, the New England Patriots used a second-round pick on Bethel Johnson, even while Anquan Boldin, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Witten were still available. The next year, they used a first-rounder on Ben Watson, who never became the dominant tight end they envisioned.
Both mistakes were bad ones. But the Patriots have made worse.
Since their inception in 1960 and introduction to the NFL in 1970, the Patriots have had their share of miserable draft days. Sometimes they've flubbed up on a single pick. Other times, they stumbled their way through an entire draft.
Here's a rundown of the 10 worst draft mistakes the Patriots have committed. In the ranking process, weight was given to higher-round selections—there's less excuse to miss on an early pick than a late one—and to the picks following the selection, as it's a bigger mistake to choose an average player over a Hall of Famer than a bad player over an average one.
Here are the top 10 New England draft mistakes, and let's hope this April doesn't provide another candidate for the list.
1998: Tony Simmons and Rod Rutledge Are Taken in the Second Round
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
For the Patriots, draft day in the late 1990s under Pete Carroll was often an exercise in disappointment. One such example was 1997, when the team had the 52nd and 54th overall selections and came away with wide receiver Tony Simmons and offensive tackle Rod Rutledge.
The selections fizzled. Simmons played three ineffective seasons with New England, while Rutledge was moved to tight end, where he didn't fare much better. By the time the Patriots were on the board again, they had passed on eventual Pro Bowlers Olin Kreutz, Leonard Little, Jeremy Newberry, Jeremiah Trotter and Ahman Green.
New England's first round, which saw the selections of Robert Edwards and Tebucky Jones, was lackluster, but the team swung and missed entirely in the second.
2002: Daniel Graham Taken over Ed Reed
A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Daniel Graham was a solid player with the Patriots, who drafted him out of Colorado with the 21st pick in 2002.
But the first round isn't the time to get solid players—especially when Hall of Famer Ed Reed is waiting in the wings.
That's the way it turned out, however. Graham became a good blocking tight end with New England, but the Mackey Award winner didn't become the top-level pass-catcher he was hoped to be. He lasted five seasons in Foxborough before departing for Denver.
Reed went three picks later and was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year by 2004, and he's been the league's best safety ever since. He's a future Hall of Famer, and the Patriots missed a chance to team him up with Lawyer Milloy and, eventually, Rodney Harrison.
The oversight didn't set the Patriots back by any means, as they won two Super Bowls shortly thereafter, but it's caused some ripples that are still being felt. Harrison began to decline in 2006, and the Patriots haven't regained that high-caliber safety play since.
Last year, in particular, saw a gaping hole develop at free safety, which would have been manned by Reed had it only been for a simple twist of fortune.
1978: Bob Cryder Taken over Ozzie Newsome
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
In 1978, the Patriots had the 18th overall pick and took Bob Cryder, a guard out of Alabama.
Right school, wrong player.
Five picks later, the Cleveland Browns selected the Crimson Tide's tight end, Ozzie Newsome. Newsome became a Hall of Famer and one of the game's greatest tight ends, earning seven All-Pro nods and helping the Browns become one of the AFC's best teams during the 1980s.
Cryder, meanwhile, played with New England until 1983 but failed to play up to his draft position, only starting more than three games in two seasons before leaving for Seattle.
1997: Chris Canty Taken in First Round, Brandon Mitchell Taken in Second
Al Bello/Getty Images
Pete Carroll's first draft with New England was arguably his worst, and it came at a bad time.
The 1996 Patriots were a young team that oozed talent and potential, and they parlayed enough of that upside to go 11-5, win the AFC championship and give the powerful Green Bay Packers all they could handle in Super Bowl XXXI.
But in between '96 and '97, coach Bill Parcells left, Carroll came on and the Patriots endured a draft that, instead of feeding this growing team, stunted it.
With the 29th overall pick, the Patriots drafted Chris Canty, a cornerback out of Kansas State who went on to play two seasons in New England and was out of the NFL in four. They passed on a number of eventual stars, including Jamie Sharper, Tiki Barber, Corey Dillon, Sam Madison and Mike Minter.
With the second-to-last pick of the second round, the 59th overall, New England took Brandon Mitchell, who won a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots but lasted only a year longer than Canty. To make things worse, New England just missed out on a potential Hall of Famer, as Darren Sharper went to the Packers on the very next pick.
History just gets darker for the Patriots, as Jason Taylor and Ronde Barber went soon after in the third round.
New England finished the draft with Chris Carter, Damon Denson, Ed Ellis, Vernon Crawford, Tony Gaiter and Scott Rehberg. None will be getting inducted into the team's Hall of Fame anytime soon, but there were players passed over who would have been.
1992: Eugene Chung Taken in First Round, Rod Smith Taken in Second
Gary Newkirk/Getty Images
The Patriots of the early 1990s were considered inept, woeful and hopeless. The 1992 draft didn't help matters any.
After going 6-10 in 1991, the Patriots had the 13th overall pick in the first round and the 35th selection of the second. To compare, the 2011 Patriots drafted 17th and 33rd. New England was in good position.
The Patriots, as was customary back then, botched it. They took Eugene Chung, an offensive tackle out of Virginia Tech, in the first round and grabbed Notre Dame defensive back Rod Smith in the second. Chung was a Patriot for a grand total of three seasons (even Laurence Maroney lasted longer than that), and Smith lasted just as long before going to Carolina in the expansion draft.
Meanwhile, right after drafting Chung, the Patriots saw Chester McGlockton, Dale Carter and Robert Porcher get taken by the Los Angeles Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs and Detroit Lions, respectively. The second round was no better, as the next three picks after Smith (Jimmy Smith, Darren Woodson, Levon Kirkland) would go on to make a combined 12 Pro Bowls.
With misfires on their two top picks, the Patriots slumped to a 2-14 record and were on the verge of being shipped up and out before Bob Kraft and Bill Parcells arrived to save the day in 1993.
Parcells would have probably liked coaching Woodson in Foxborough, though.
2009: The First Three Rounds
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Bill Belichick's reputation as a football genius is undisputed and well earned. The man knows how to coach, knows how to mold talent and, in general, knows how to find it.
That being said, the Patriots under Belichick have had some putrid drafts. In 2009, they endured one of the worst.
Throughout the first three rounds, each move the Patriots made backfired. In the first round, they were slated 23rd but opted to move out of the first round to stock up on picks in later rounds and future drafts. As a result, they missed a golden opportunity to draft Clay Matthews, an elite pass-rusher that the Patriots have noticeably lacked the past few seasons.
The trading down did eventually net Rob Gronkowski, but seeing as the tight end was taken in the second round in 2010, there's little reason to think the Patriots couldn't have had both.
The second and third rounds are harder to defend. The Patriots had the 40th and 41st picks in the second round and took Ron Brace and Darius Butler, respectively.
Butler never learned to cover and has since been released; Brace hasn't developed and could lose out on a roster spot. Meanwhile, the Patriots missed out on LeSean McCoy, Connor Barwin and Jairus Byrd, all taken within 12 spots of Butler.
In the third round, the Patriots selected Brandon Tate, a failed project at receiver, with the 83rd pick, one pick shy of the one Pittsburgh used to draft Mike Wallace.
New England did come away with Patrick Chung at No. 34 overall and Sebastian Vollmer at No. 58, but it's impossible to look at the players the Patriots missed without thinking "what if," especially with a pass-rusher and downfield receiver eventually becoming two of the team's prevalent needs.
1990: Patriots Pass on Emmitt Smith—Twice
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
In the draft before their worst season, the Patriots made one of their worst mistakes.
The Patriots were slated eighth and 10th, and they grabbed Chris Singleton, a linebacker out of Arizona, and Ray Agnew, a defensive end out of North Carolina State.
Singleton wasn't top-10 material, and he was gone by 1993 and out of the league by '96 at the age of 29. Agnew put together a 10-year career in the NFL and won a ring with the 1999 St. Louis Rams, but his five years in New England weren't great.
The Patriots had two swings, and two whiffs, at one of the greatest players of all time. Emmitt Smith was taken 18th overall by Dallas, eventually becoming arguably the best running back to ever play the game.
New England had two cracks at a stud and came away with two busts. But that was just the routine back then. The Patriots would end up going 1-15 that year and becoming the league's laughingstock.
1982: Kenneth Sims Taken First Overall
George Rose/Getty Images
There's no way around it. When you have the first pick, you have to come away with a great player. Period.
The Patriots were in that position in 1982, and they took Kenneth Sims, a defensive end out of Texas. They thought they were getting an elite pass-rusher. What they got were headaches, thanks to Sims's lazy work ethic, weight problems and drug issues.
With the whole draft board at their disposal, the Patriots still came away with a bust.
The draft wasn't a total failure, as New England drafted eventual Hall of Fame linebacker Andre Tippett in the second round, but a wasted first overall pick is always a black eye—especially with fellow Canton inductees Mike Munchak (eighth overall) and Marcus Allen (10th) waiting to be picked.
2006: The Whole Draft
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
A draft could hardly go worse for a team than the 2006 one did for Bill Belichick's Patriots.
New England selected 10 times in 2006. Only two choices were decent ones. And they both came after arguably the two biggest busts of the Belichick era.
The Patriots drafted Laurence Maroney in the first round (21st overall) and Chad Jackson in the second (36th overall). That by itself is reason enough for a failed draft.
New England could hardly be blamed for buying into the love scouts had for both players, but that doesn't improve the picks. Jackson never caught on in the Patriots offense, and Maroney, after a solid rookie season, seemed to get worse each year.
By drafting those two players, New England missed chances at Greg Jennings, Devin Hester and Maurice Jones-Drew, all selected in the second round.
Maroney and Jackson were the signature busts, but they were hardly alone. The Patriots also drafted tight ends David Thomas and Garrett Mills in the third and fourth round, respectively, missing out on Jahri Evans, Brandon Marshall, Elvis Dumervil and Kyle Williams in the process.
Nowadays, only fourth-round pick Stephen Gostkowski remains with the team. The draft is a crapshoot and bad picks happen to everyone, but drafts like this are every coach or general manager's nightmare.
1983: Tony Eason Picked over Dan Marino
Mike Powell/Getty Images
The 1983 draft was a quarterback frenzy, and the Patriots wanted in.
Six signal-callers in total went in the first round, the last of which was Hall of Famer Dan Marino to Miami at No. 27.
New England passed on Marino, but so did 22 other teams. Some of them, however, had their reasons. The Baltimore Colts drafted John Elway first and the Buffalo Bills took Jim Kelly 14th. Those guys turned out to be pretty good.
The Patriots, however, drafted Tony Eason out of Illinois at No. 15. Eason had his moments, and from 1984-86 was actually pretty good.
But he was never Dan Marino. He never became a franchise quarterback and is remembered mostly for a miserable performance in Super Bowl XX.
Marino, meanwhile, became one of the best quarterbacks to ever play. Missing out on a franchise quarterback is bad enough, but missing out when he's right in your hands is tough to live down.
One bad pick cost the Patriots a Hall of Fame quarterback. It'd be 17 years before they would draft another.