The New England Patriots' Five Best and Worst Draft Picks of the Bill Belichick Era
Bill Belichick has been the centerpiece of the Patriots dynasty since being hired as head coach in 2000. As a member of the Bill Parcells coaching tree, one of his strengths has been the NFL draft. So here we will take a look at the Patriots’ top five draft picks in the Bill Belichick era.
I know you think Tom Brady will be No. 1 on this list, and normally you’d be right. The quarterback from Michigan was drafted in the sixth round, No. 199 overall has won an MVP, two Super Bowl MVPs, and has been selected to the Pro Bowl five times.
Yes, he is the coach’s and the team’s best draft pick ever. So it would be too easy to name him number one.
So I left him off. It makes it more interesting.
Now, Belichick may be a drafting wiz, but he’s had his blunders, too. As the yin and yang symbolizes, there is always a good with the bad. So, while the good have outweighed the bad, there were still some bad picks and I’ve identified the five worst.
This list will alternate. First you will see the fifth worst pick, then the fifth best, then the fourth worst, and so on and so forth. Players drafted low that will be rewarded extra while high draft picks will be heavier penalized.
Worst- No. 5: Kevin O’Connell, QB. Drafted: 2008, third round, No. 94 overall
Since drafting Tom Brady the Patriots have selected four other quarterbacks: Rohan Davey, Kliff Kingsbury, Matt Cassel, and O’Connell.
Drafted out of San Diego State, he had the highest draft position out of any quarterback taken by Belichick, and the highest quarterback drafted since Drew Bledsoe was taken first overall in the 1993 draft.
He spent one season there, appearing in two games and throwing six passes. Then in the 2009 preseason, after he threw two interceptions in a preseason game he was waived.
Why spend such a high pick on such a disposable player?
Lucky for the Patriots, and the only reason why this pick doesn’t rank higher, is because no Pro Bowlers—or any players of significance really yet—were selected in the remainder of the draft.
Best- No. 5: Julian Edelman, WR. Drafted: 2009, seventh round, No. 232 overall
The quarterback from Kent State that many felt the Patriots took to possibly run the Wild Cat was turned into a wide receiver and a mini-Wes Welker when the real version went down with injury.
In week two, when Welker was inactive, and 17, when Welker was taken out because of injury, Edelman shined the most, catching eight passes for 98 yards in the former and ten catches for 103 yards in the latter.
He also caught two touchdowns in the playoff game that Welker was unable to play in.
Edelman was lightning in a bottle and the Patriots hope that he can do the same next year, as Welker will most likely not be ready for the start of the season.
Worst- No. 4: Chad Jackson, WR. Drafted: 2006, second round, No. 36 overall
Jackson had a good college career and looked good in the combine, so it was tough not to like him. But the Patriots traded up an astonishing 16 spots, along with one of their third round selections, with the Green Bay Packers in order to select him.
A hamstring injury nagged him in his two seasons with the team in which he only played 14 games. He did catch three touchdowns his rookie season, but only played in two games the following season.
The Patriots gave up a considerable amount to draft him, when they might have been better off standing pat. In the second round spot that New England traded to Green Bay the Packers selected wide receiver Greg Jennings, who has enjoyed a much better career than Jackson.
By picking Jackson New England also passed up on future Pro Bowlers OT Marcus McNeill, CB Devin Hester, and RB Maurice Jones-Drew.
Further compounding how bad things were, with their third round pick they drafted TE David Thomas, a pedestrian player that also played in only two games his second season (although he would last one more year with New England before moving on to play for New Orleans).
Selected 12 spots later? Pro Bowl TE Owen Daniels.
Best- No. 4: Vince Wilfork, NT. Drafted: 2004, first round, No. 21 overall
Wilfork is the only first round pick to make the best five on this list.
Not that Richard Seymour, Logan Mankins, and Jerod Mayo were bad picks—they were all great selections. But you expect your first rounder to be that good. With so much investment and hype, really first rounders can only be what you expect or major busts.
That being said, Wilfork has become an elite nose tackle. It’s a difficult position to fill. However Wilfork has become an elite nose tackle. He’s been the anchor of the Patriots defense for six seasons and had been selected to two Pro Bowls.
A free agent this offseason, Wilfork will most likely get franchised by the Patriots, but whatever happens, someone will be paying a lot of money for his services.
Worst- No. 3: Adrian Klemm, OT. Drafted: 2000, second round, No. 46 overall
The Patriots lost their first round draft pick to the New York Jets as compensation for signing Belichick as their head coach. So good value there.
When it was finally time to for the coach to make his mark in the draft, he selected the offensive lineman out of Hawaii.
Not much of a splash there.
Klemm was on the roster from 2000-2004. He played in a total of 26 games, including missing his entire second season.
Klemm played in one more season for the Green Bay Packers and then was out of the NFL.
They passed on Pro Bowl linebacker Marcus Washington.
Best- No. 3: Dan Koppen, C. Drafted: 2003, fifth round, No. 164 overall
The Patriots went with a hometown player in the fifth round, originally to backup center Damian Woody.
Woody was injured, and Koppen, a Boston College alum stepped in. The Patriots won the Super Bowl that year.
Woody left for the Detroit Lions the following season, Koppen was made the permanent starter, and the Patriots won the Super Bowl again.
Koppen was injured the following year after nine games, but the Patriots held onto him and he returned to his starting role the following season.
In seven seasons with the Patriots and a possible 112 games, Koppen has started in all but nine of them (92 percent). Remember, that’s games started, not just played in.
Koppen has also made one Pro Bowl squad.
Worst- No. 2: Bethel Johnson, WR. Drafted: 2003, second round, No. 45 overall
In three seasons with the Patriots, the “return specialist” caught four total touchdowns and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. Nothing special about it.
The Patriots criticized him for his ego and work ethic and traded him to the Saints, who cut him before the regular season after a knee injury and criticisms of his conditioning, stamina, and endurance.
He played that season for the Minnesota Vikings and failed to make another NFL roster. He was even cut from the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts because he wasn’t progressing.
Pro Bowlers passed on were WR Anquan Boldin (taken nine spots later), DE Osi Umenyiora, LB Lance Briggs, TE Jason Witten, RB Chris Brown, CB Terrence McGee.
Bethel Johnson over Anquan Boldin?
It doesn’t even need to be said how poor the judgment was on this pick.
Does that scout still have a job?
Best- No. 2: Matt Cassel, QB. Drafted: 2005, seventh round, No. 230 overall
In Cassel’s first three seasons with the Patriots, he didn’t do anything that would’ve merited him being named one of the Patriots’ best draft picks of the Belichick era (although being picked in the seventh round and lasting more than one season made him more valuable than O’Connell).
His fourth year was something special though.
When Brady went down in the first quarter of the first game of the 2008 season, Cassel came in and led the Pats to victory over the Chiefs. Belichick stuck with the quarterback he drafted and Cassel rewarded his faith.
Cassel led the Patriots to an 11-5 record, passed for over 3,600 yards, and threw 21 touchdowns compared to only 11 interceptions. He was also selected to the Pro Bowl.
While the Patriots missed the playoffs, Cassel performed valiantly and was rewarded in the offseason with a large payday.
Worst- No. 1: Laurence Maroney, RB. Drafted: 2006, first round, number 21 overall
If he wasn’t a first-rounder, maybe he isn’t as high on this list. And Maroney has been productive at times. Yet he is entirely too unreliable as a first-round starting running back.
Maroney’s rushing yards-per-carry average each of his four seasons are impressive, but he’s never rushed for 1,000 yards—the most he’s ever rushed for in a season are 835.
This season he fumbled the ball three times in the red zone. Unforgivable.
He’s been so unpredictable that the Patriots have more-so relied on running backs Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris, and even brought in the aging Fred Taylor in this past offseason. As a result, Maroney only started five games this past season.
Another interesting thought: he’s caught only one touchdown pass in his entire career. With Tom Brady as your quarterback you know the Patriots are going to lean more on the pass than the rush. He spreads the ball around and hits his running backs. Since 2001, Kevin Faulk has caught at least one rushing touchdown in all but one season.
Is Maroney that bad of a pass-catcher?
Is he that bad in the red zone?
Is he just not getting enough playing time?
All three of those are terrible questions to be asked about your first-round starting running back.
What makes this selection worse is the players they passed on. Between the pick of Maroney and Jackson (yes, 2006 should be dubbed the Patriots’ worst draft) future Pro Bowlers OG Davin Joseph, RB DeAngelo Williams, C Nick Mangold, RB Joseph Addai, and LB DeMeco Ryans. Also taken in the draft were future Pro Bowl running backs Maurice Jones-Drew and Leon Washington.
With the Patriots’ current situation at linebacker don’t you think they’d love to have the young and energetic Ryans?
And New England passed on four Pro-Bowl running backs for Maroney (although to be fair Washington’s selection was more for his return skills).
How about Williams though? He has proved to be one of the NFL’s most dynamic rushers and the Pats offense would be unstoppable if they had him to rely on in the running game.
Best- No. 1: Asante Samuel, CB. Drafted: 2003, fourth round, number 120 overall
He has amassed 35 career interceptions and returned four for touchdowns (three as a Patriot). He has been selected to four Pro Bowls.
In his second season he started in the Super Bowl.
He is tied for first in franchise history for interceptions in a season (10 in 2006). The same season he also set tied the Patriot’s record for interceptions in a game, when he picked off three in Week 12 against the Bears.
In the 2006 postseason he returned two interceptions for touchdowns.
As he has continued his career with Philadelphia the past two seasons, he has set playoff records for interceptions returned for touchdowns (four) and most career postseason interceptions amongst active players (seven).
All this value and production for just a fourth round pick. The Patriots had a steal there, and it is unfortunate for them, with their current defensive back situation, that they couldn’t keep him. When they did have him though they certainly got the most out of him.