One of the few cognitive comments John Madden made during a telecast still plays in my mind. He once said you can’t judge a team’s draft until two or three years down the road. This holds true for the New England Patriots, as their draft ineptitude has been felt, most recently in the 2009-2010 season.
2009 was a strange year for the Patriots as their team consisted of aged veterans who could not handle a full-time load anymore, and young rookies or second year players who did not have the experience to start and play regularly in NFL games.
The bridge between those two types of roster players derives from the third and fourth year players, who have already gotten their feet wet in NFL action, but do not have the amount of miles of an eight or 10-year veteran whose effectiveness has diminished.
This category is where most recently the Patriots have failed.
Remember the Patriots teams of 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 when they won back-to-back championships?
Yes, they had a solid core of veterans in the primes of their careers, but they also consistently reloaded and stockpiled role player talent which provided them a huge advantage over other teams in how much depth they had.
Daniel Graham, Deion Branch, Jarvis Green, David Givens in 2002.
Ty Warren, Eugene Wilson, Asante Samuel, Dan Koppen, Tully Banta-Cain in 2003.
Vince Wilfork in 2004.
That's a group of ten players drafted in a three year period who started for the Patriots, made Pro Bowls, won Super Bowls and became impact players.
These were not free agents, these were players drafted and coached by the organization.
Even the successful draft in 2005 which saw Logan Mankins, Ellis Hobbs, Nick Kaczur, James Sanders and Matt Cassel all get significant playing time, provided youth and depth to an older Patriots team that went 16-0 in the regular season and made the Super Bowl.
However, more recently, even as New England has won 11 and 10 games respectively in the last two seasons, there seems to be something missing.
What's missing is the injection of a core of talented young players which cannot be brought in by free agency, but by the NFL Draft.
The Patriots can only get by for so long bringing in Joey Galloway, Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, Leigh Bodden, Junior Seau, etc. to plug holes in an attempt to solve the depth issues of this team.
If what John Madden said was true, the players the Patriots drafted in 2006 and 2007 should have made an impact in this past 2009-2010 season if they were NFL worthy players.
Laurence Maroney, Chad Jackson, David Thomas, Garrett Mills, Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan O'Callaghan, Jeremy Mincey, Dan Stephenson, Le Kevin Smith, and Willie Andrews all were taken by New England in the 2006 draft.
Ten players. One has exceeded expectations, and that's the kicker Stephen Gostkowski.
Don't you think Brady could have used Chad Jackson as a third receiver this year? Or have had Laurence Maroney take over as the lead running back which they have not had since Corey Dillon.
I do not expect everyone from the draft to start and become an impact player.
However I do expect some of their selections to be ready enough to get on the field whether it is on special teams or as a backup for other veteran starters.
Jackson, Thomas, Mills, Mincey, Smith, Stephenson, and Andrews aren't even on the team anymore.
Maroney is entering a contract year and with little to show from the 2007 draft except safety Brandon Meriweather, the Patriots need their 2008, 2009, and upcoming 2010 selections to pan out.
If not, New England could be in store for another few years of inconsistency. Their veterans are getting older, and there is no talent to replace them.