NFL Draft 2012: Breaking Down What Makes the New England Patriots So Good
Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots may not blow fans away with their NFL draft selections, but it wouldn't be considered insane to believe that the best team in the past decade is also the best drafting team.
After all, drafting success brings future stars to the team. Stars create consistency and championship contention. It's a simple formula, yet so hard to complete.
It seems only fitting that the Patriots acquired Belichick from the New York Jets with a first-round selection as compensation—possibly the best draft move the franchise has ever made. It seems quite ironic that the Patriots, a team that is known for trading down in the first round, started the decade in this fashion.
Love or hate the Patriots organization, it is very hard to argue their success not only on the field, but in the draft room as well.
Here are the reasons the Patriots have become one of the most successful and consistent teams in terms of the NFL draft.
Since 2002, the Patriots have drafted 15 eventual All-Pros. Where does this statistic stand versus the rest of the NFL? Well, it actually leads the league.
It is no coincidence that the ability to draft future All-Pros brings success to a team. Behind the Patriots are the Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles—all teams that have been successful over the past decade.
Whether the talent has been found early or late in the draft, the management of the Patriots has done a great job of finding the right fits.
In addition to the number of All-Pro selections, there are some other impressive statistics supporting the Patriots' case as one of the best during the draft.
According to Cold Hard Football Facts, the Patriots were the best drafting team of the decade from 2001-2010. On their resume are 11 Pro Bowlers and 46 active draftees—both ranking within the top three of the NFL.
Increasing the Chance of Success
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Despite the disappointment of fans after trading away a higher-profile draft position, adding additional picks increases the chance of finding success. The Patriots have found this strategy to work extremely efficiently.
Of course there is always an exception to the rule. In 2009 the Patriots traded away a pick that became Green Bay Packers defensive star Clay Matthews. In return, New England received two third-round picks and the selection of Darius Butler.
You can't strike gold every time you make a trade. But beyond that instance, New England has had quite the success story.
Since Belichick became a key decision-maker, the Patriots have traded away 10 of their first-round selections. In addition to receiving multiple picks in the later rounds, the Pats have used the new draft positions to draft Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty, Brandon Meriweather and Daniel Graham.
The six players mentioned not only became an integral part of the team—four of them being Pro Bowl selections—but they were much better deals.
Under the old rookie salary structure, before the lockout, the Patriots were able to draft successfully while saving an immense amount of cap space. For instance, the Patriots traded a seventh overall pick to the New Orleans Saints, who selected Sedrick Ellis. New England drafted Jerod Mayo.
After both players completed five-year deals, the Patriots saved $30 million compared to the Saints.
With the new rookie salary rules, the Patriots may be more inclined to use their higher picks. Although, I wouldn't count on it.
Finding the True Talent Deep
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Every team's goal, of course, is to find value and talent. While some teams trade numerous picks for that staple first-round selection, others take the New England approach and gladly take numerous picks for their overvalued first-round position.
Looking at the list of players the Patriots have selected in any round other than the first, you will find a plethora of great players. Under the Belichick era, the Pats have selected these players outside of the first round: Deion Branch (second), Dan Koppen (fourth), Asante Samuel (fourth), Matt Cassel (seventh), Matt Light (second) and of course the famous pick in the sixth round that resulted in Tom Brady.
The list of players selected does not need much explaining as to why it is impressive. We know what Brady has become. Cassel may be the ultimate depiction of the Patriots' draft success, though.
When Cassel was drafted with the 230th overall pick, he had never started a football game outside of high school. He later led the Brady-less Patriots to an 11-5 record while posting a quarterback rating of 89.4.
Cassel became the starting quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs and has a Pro Bowl selection on his resume.
With Belichick being involved with 110 selections throughout his tenure with New England, he has done a remarkable job of drafting talented players with great value in the later rounds.
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If you are a fan of any team other than the New England Patriots, you are most likely tired of hearing about Bill Belichick and his system.
That system, however, stands as the foundation for how the Patriots make any decision—particularly in the draft.
The ideology of the concept is to find value and talent that players possess, allowing them to succeed in the organization. Often, this leads to the Pats being able to stockpile picks for their future as well as fill needs.
Last year, the drafting of Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley baffled many fans and analysts since the Patriots traded their first-round selection so New Orleans was able to draft Mark Ingram.
As it turns out, Ridley was a pleasant surprise and will be most likely taking over the starting role for BenJarvus Green-Ellis, now with the Cincinnati Bengal. Of course, Ingram would have been a much more fascinating option to replace Green-Ellis. But now the Pats have the Saints' 27th overall pick in this draft.
With this move, the Patriots added depth to the running back position in 2011, allowing them to save cap space by letting Green-Ellis leave. And now, they have the opportunity to fill voids in the defense with a 2012 first-round selection.
Then again, there is always the possibility that New England trades a first-rounder and selects a player valued higher then his expected draft position—all while securing even more draft picks for the future.
The team's system on the field and at the draft, as evident by the Patriots' success, works exceptionally well.