7 Biggest Draft Day Mistakes in New England Patriots History
The New England Patriots are always one of the most fascinating teams to watch during the NFL Draft. They trade up and down, take chances on controversial players and often make surprising selections long before any of the pundits thought a certain player would be taken.
While the Pats have had an unprecedented run of success on the field, they've had plenty of draft misses as well. They're masters of trading down, acquiring more picks and mitigating the risk of each draft pick, but they have quite a few misfires in the early rounds, especially the second.
Here's a look back at some of the biggest mistakes in recent seasons—reaches on players who never panned out and just general busts who had the predraft hype but never lived up to it.
Terrence Wheatley: 2008 Second Rounder
With the departure of Asante Samuel at the start of the 2008 free-agency period, the Patriots had a major need at cornerback. Terrence Wheatley was supposed to be the answer when the Pats selected him in the second round.
A look back at Wheatley's NFL.com scouting profile gives some insight into what the Pats saw in him. Yes, he was undersized and coming off an injury, but his speed and intangibles certainly made him appealing. However, the Pats already had an undersized fast corner in Ellis Hobbs and the selection of Wheatley was redundant on paper.
Wheatley was brought along slowly in his rookie year, dressing as a reserve in six of the first seven games. In his first start against the Indianapolis Colts, Wheatley sustained a wrist injury and was placed on injured reserve two weeks later.
In 2009, he was active for just five games, all as a reserve. He would play just 21 snaps.
A foot injury in the 2010 preseason kept Wheatley's career off track. He was finally active for his first game in Week 8 against the Minnesota Vikings but did not play a snap. He was waived the following week, thus ending his Patriots career.
Injuries doomed Wheatley's career, but it shouldn't have been surprising given his size. The Pats' search for a suitable starting corner would continue well into the next decade.
20/20 Hindsight: Jamaal Charles was selected 11 picks after Wheatley.
Tavon Wilson: 2012 Second Rounder
Is it too early to write off Tavon Wilson as he enters just his third season? For a second-round pick who saw his snaps on defense dip from 500 in 2012 to just 22 in 2013, it's not.
Wilson was one of those shocking picks the Pats seem to make every year, leaving both the fans and pundits scratching their heads. The Pats had a big need for a safety, but it was clear that Wilson would've been available much later in the draft.
Wilson was thrust into the starting lineup in 2012 and was burned over-the-top in back-to-back games at Seattle and against the Jets. After playing almost every snap in a four-week stretch in the middle of the season, Wilson was relegated back to the dime linebacker position.
He played well in the reduced role, but when the Pats drafted Duron Harmon in the third round of the 2013 draft, it appeared that Wilson was no longer in the long-term plans.
His only significant contributions would come on special teams in 2013. He'll be on the roster bubble in 2014.
20/20 Hindsight: Lavonte David was selected 10 spots after Wilson.
Patrick Chung: 2009 Second Rounder
Most Patriots pundits penciled in Patrick Chung as a fiery Rodney Harrison replacement when the Pats selected him in the second round of 2009. Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio raved (via Mike Reiss of the Boston Globe) about Chung after their predraft interview with him, “After 15 minutes, we were ready to run through a wall. It was like ‘sign me up.’ … This is one of these guys, the more you’re around him, you like what you see.”
Like many of the other Patriots draft busts, injuries just never let Chung reach his full potential, and given Chung's size, it should've been more of a concern during the draft process.
Chung was sparingly used in his rookie year, playing just 195 snaps and playing generally solid. In 2010, he was elevated to starter and started the season off with a bang, recording 16 tackles in the opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Chung's best game as a Patriot came three weeks later on Monday Night Football against the Miami Dolphins, where he blocked a punt and field goal, along with returning an interception 51 yards for a touchdown. But Chung would sustain a knee injury in Week 7, miss two games and never be the same player again in 2010.
In 2011, injuries held Chung to just eight regular-season games. He would play in all three playoff games, including a solid performance in Super Bowl 46, but the combination of his playing temperament and injuries allowed the Patriots to let him walk that offseason.
Chung had some memorable moments, good and bad, including the botched fake punt he called in the 2010 AFC Divisional playoff and his split-second-too-late coverage that allowed Eli Manning's pinpoint drive-starting throw to Mario Manningham on the final drive of Super Bowl 46.
20/20 Hindsight: Chung's Oregon teammate Jairus Byrd was selected eight picks after Chung.
Jermaine Cunningham: 2010 Second Rounder
The Patriots were in full rebuilding mode on defense in 2010, and they badly needed edge players who could generate pass rush. Jermaine Cunningham was a surprising pick in the second round, especially considering his more highly ranked Florida teammate Carlos Dunlap was still on the board when the Pats took Cunningham.
Coach Belichick would always come down and watch film and I’d sometimes sit in there and he would keep asking about [Jermaine]: ‘Who’s this guy? Who’s this guy? Who’s this guy?’ And you had Derrick Harvey, you had Jarvis Moss, Carlos Dunlap, and then Jermaine was kind of the next guy, but he would always say ‘Who is that guy? I love that guy.’
Belichick's infatuation with Cunningham turned out to be misguided. While he record only one sack in his rookie year playing both defensive end and outside linebacker, Cunningham flashed some promise, including a strong three-QB-hurry performance against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.
Cunningham's pressure forced Manning to throw the game-sealing interception.
Injuries would hold Cunningham to just 48 total snaps in 2011. In 2012, he carved out a role as an interior pass-rusher and showed some promise. However, he was suspended for PEDs at the end of November and never got out of Bill Belichick's doghouse after that.
Cunningham was cut at the end of training camp in 2013.
20/20 Hindsight: Carlos Dunlap was selected with the next pick after Cunningham. He has 27.5 career sacks in four seasons.
Ron Brace: 2009 Second Rounder
The second round of the 2009 draft was brutal for the Patriots. They had four selections in the round and only Sebastian Vollmer would earn a second contract with the team.
Ron Brace was the second of the four picks, and his potential fit was obvious as a Vince Wilfork-type nose tackle. Brace's width and strength looked on paper like perfect two-gapping defensive tackle material, but injuries and failed conditioning tests kept Brace from ever making an impact.
Brace would play just 55 snaps as a rookie, but showed some promise in his second year, playing 285 snaps and never receiving a negative grade from ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required). But a concussion and elbow injury would put a premature end to his season as he was put on injured reserve before the playoffs began.
Brace fell off the radar almost completely in 2011, playing just 62 snaps and never more than 15 in a game. He'd remain on the team in 2012 but continued to be a non-factor, playing just 92 snaps. He was released before the 2012 playoffs.
20/20 Hindsight: LeSean McCoy was selected 13 picks after Brace.
Ras-I Dowling: 2011 Second Rounder
In 2011, the Patriots were sitting with the 33rd overall pick, the first pick of day two.
With a full night to regroup, hear trade offers and weigh a decision, the Pats were in a great position. The result? Injury-prone cornerback Ras-I Dowling.
Despite missing time during training camp with an injury, Dowling was a surprise starter in the season opener against the Miami Dolphins and flashed the good size and long arms that made him a top prospect despite his injury history.
Dowling would injure his hip in Week 2 and ended up on injured reserve in a disappointing end to his rookie year.
Dowling's injury problems would continue into 2012. He played 37 snaps in the opener against the Tennessee Titans, but saw his play time slowly dwindle after that. He would tear his quad in Week 7 and once again be placed on injured reserve. Dowling was cut at the end of training camp in 2013.
Dowling's size was a clear indication that the Pats wanted to move towards more press man in their coverages, but his lengthy injury history wasn't enough of a red flag at the time.
20/20 Hindsight: Aaron Williams went to the Bills the pick after Dowling and has carved out a nice role as a strong safety. Jabaal Sheard was picked four players later.
Chad Jackson: 2006 Second Rounder
Every fan and pundit loves the selection of an explosive wide receiver, and that's what the Patriots thought they were getting when they traded up to take Chad Jackson in the second round of the 2006 draft.
The Patriots were desperate for a receiver in 2006 and didn't realize how grim things would get when Deion Branch would hold out at the start of the season. Couple that with the departure of David Givens and Tom Brady was left with an entirely new squad of weapons.
Jackson oozed athleticism and speed at the combine and was clearly at the top of the wide receiver list with Santonio Holmes. But a hamstring issue in his first training camp put Jackson behind in his assimilation into the NFL and he never caught back up.
Once he made his debut, he flashed the potential that made him a high-round pick, including an amazing touchdown against the Buffalo Bills that saw him crawl into the end zone. Jackson would finish the regular season with 13 catches for 152 yards and three touchdowns, but he clearly wasn't the answer the Pats were looking for.
New England was forced to trade for receiver Doug Gabriel and plug in free agent Jabar Gaffney to make up for Jackson's inability to master the offense or stay healthy. He would tear his ACL in the AFC Championship.
The following year the Pats would load up on receivers in free agency, including Randy Moss and Wes Welker, knocking Jackson down the depth chart. He started the year on the PUP list and would finish with just one catch all year. He was cut the following summer.
Chad Jackson is one of the biggest Patriot draft busts in history for a variety of reasons. He had a ton of potential, and the Pats badly needed him to "get it." He just never put it all together, and the Patriots weren't going to wait for him.
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