Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots have been at the pinnacle of the NFL ever since their three-Super Bowl dynasty last decade, but the team is headed for a fall, and the blame rests on Belichick's shoulders.
It's necessary to preface this piece with the fact that I have the utmost respect for Belichick as a head coach and talent evaluator. He's managed to, time and again, put together a number of spare parts and win games in bunches.
That said, his record in recent years doesn't inspire much confidence from a roster-management perspective.
Pro Football Focus recently graded out Belichick's last few draft classes, and the results aren't pretty.
While the article did make sure to note that Sebastian Vollmer, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have turned out to be great picks, it still reeks of bad decision-making in Foxborough.
After the aforementioned three, the article points out how Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty and Brandon Spikes have turned out well.
However, consider that Mayo was a thoroughly bad linebacker in his first two seasons, an average linebacker in his next two, and he only broke out and played well in 2012, which is way too large of a learning curve for a No. 10 overall pick.
McCourty, another first-rounder, played well as a rookie but regressed a lot in his sophomore season and is finally starting to play well at safety, but it remains to be seen if he can keep up his play.
Spikes hasn't been able to assimilate in pass coverage, and it's unfortunate that a second-round linebacker has ended up as such a one-dimensional player in terms of stopping the run.
After that, the list goes on and on about how many picks the Patriots have wasted of late. Taylor Price, Ron Brace, Kevin O'Connell and Terrence Wheatley headline the most glaring examples, but Shawn Crable, Patrick Chung, Darius Butler, Brandon Tate, Tyrone McKenzie, Rich Ohrnberger, Jermaine Cunningham, Kade Weston and Zac Robinson have all played poorly enough to warrant release and, in hindsight, are stains on Belichick's drafting record.
Can we really crown Belichick a genius today because he lucked out with Tom Brady, a sixth-round pick over a decade ago? While I won't take anything away from his Super Bowl victories or success up through 2007 and 2008, it seems as though his ability to siphon talent through the draft has lessened of late.
"Bill Belichick is smart, but sometimes he succeeds just by aiding other teams' efforts to be stupid."— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) April 26, 2013
In the NFL, a franchise quarterback of Brady's caliber will win games and make everything look good around him, even if the rest of the team is a mess. If you need proof, just look at what happened when Peyton Manning sat out the 2011 season and the Colts went 2-14.
The lone argument against such a case, in 2008 when Matt Cassel won 11 games with New England in Brady's case, only shows how good of a wide receiving corps the Patriots had with Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Since then, Belichick was able to find Gronkowski and Hernandez to dominate the middle of the field, but he'll rely on a brittle Danny Amendola to replace Welker, and most still aren't sure who will start on the outside for New England.
Just this last draft, Belichick reportedly usurped control of the draft room and quieted his scouts when he went against the draft board and reached for players like Jamie Collins and Duron Harmon, per PFY. Both players were reportedly considered to be third-day prospects who had major holes in their respective games.
Is Bill Belichick a good drafter?
All things considered, Belichick's team will still compete and win games in 2013. In fact, it's hard to bet against the Patriots as divisional champions again.
That said, all of the wasted picks will catch up to the head coach. It's simply a matter of when.