To be a successful franchise in the NFL, you need to make good draft choices. Many teams are unable to draft well and as a result, do not see sustained success. Other teams, like the New England Patriots are able to find great players in every round. As a result, the Patriots are always one of the best teams in the NFL.
Many people point out that Belichick got lucky by finding Tom Brady in the 6th round. I counter that the Patriots were the only team even seemed interested in Brady. No other team would give him a shot, but Belichick saw something in Brady and ultimately, it was another great draft selection by one of the greatest coaches/general managers ever. Belichick also has a track record of many other great selections, so you cannot really argue against him.
However, it is also important to acknowledge that Belichick has not been perfect. He is human after all and there certainly some selections he would like back. This article will show eight of Belichick's best selections and seven of his worst. Of course there are more than eight good selections and seven bad selections during the Belichick era, but this article will focus on some of the notable selections. Note that Brady will not be included in this article, because been there, done that.
15 Best - Devin McCourty
The Patriots took Devin McCourty in the first round of the 2010 draft. Many people were surprised at this selection because McCourty was not ranked that high in the mock drafts. Thus, Patriots fans thought McCourty was going to be special teamer and never be an elite defender. Boy, did McCourty prove many people wrong.
McCourty went on to have a great rookie season at cornerback before facing struggles the next couple of seasons. As a result, the Patriots moved McCourty to safety and this is when his true worth became notable. McCourty has become one of the best safeties in the league and is also one of the leaders on the defense. While this selection may have not envisioned the way Belichick anticipated, McCourty has turned out to be one of his best draft picks.
14 Worst - Aaron Dobson
The Patriots used a late second rounder on Aaron Dobson. Some may say it is only a second round pick, but if you look at what Belichick has done with other second round picks, this was not good. Dobson showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie season, but was never able to carry this momentum into the next season. Dobson went on to battle a variety of injuries and could never establish a good chemistry with Tom Brady.
Even when Dobson did play, his hands were suspect, as he dropped a ton of passes. Dobson also was not very good at running after the catch, which is essential when playing for the Patriots. Additionally, Dobson did not use his size well. He was rarely able to win 50-50 jump balls. Safe to say Belichick would like this pick back.
13 Best - Julian Edelman
Not only was Julian Edelman one of Bill Belichick's best draft choices, but he was also a steal. Edelman was drafted in the seventh round, but has played like a first rounder for the Patriots. Edelman has been vital to the last two Super Bowl victories and his true value shows up in the playoffs. Edelman is the all time leader for the Patriots in playoff receptions and has plenty of time to add to this.
The crazy part in relation to Edelman is that it took him a while to find his groove in the NFL. He received limited playing time in his first couple of seasons and also had trouble staying healthy. At one point, no other team was even willing to offer Edelman more than a one year prove it contract. Luckily Belichick did, and now the rest is history.
12 Worst - Tavon Wilson
Tavon Wilson was one of those surprising picks that Belichick loves to make. Many pundits were shocked when the Pats reached for Wilson in the second round. It is not hard to see why the Patriots took him, though. The Patriots had a big need for safety at the time, and Wilson has Belichick's favourite quality: versatility. However, the problem was that Wilson would have been available much later in the draft for the Patriots.
So when you look at value, Wilson was not one of Belichick's better selections. Wilson struggled as a starter and was much more suited for a limited/special teams role. In the end, he only lasted four seasons with the team and did not become the starting safety the Patriots had envisioned.
11 Best - Matt Light
Everyone knows that offensive lineman are under appreciated and Matt Light is no different. However, the former second round pick turned out to be one of Belichick's best draft decisions. Light played for the Patriots for 11 years and won three Super Bowls while protecting Tom Brady's blindside. Light had a nasty edge to him and was a great player in the trenches.
What makes this selection one of the better choices in the Belichick era is that the Pats traded up two spots to get Light. The Patriots had the 50th pick, but were worried the Jets were going to select Light with the 49th pick. As a result, Belichick did his thing and moved up to ensure Light would come to the Patriots.
10 Worst - Laurence Maroney
The most surprising part about this selection is that Bill Belichick took a running back in the first round. If you watch the way Belichick operates, it is clear he does not put a premium on the "power" running back position and drafting Maroney in the first round was quite a shocker. I do not think you will see Belichick using a first rounder on a running back again any time soon.
From a football standpoint, Maroney was a very frustrating running back to watch. Often times he looked to dance around the line of scrimmage too much instead of attacking the hole. Overall, Maroney was never able to establish consistency in New England and his tenure with the team was much shorter than both parties had hoped.
9 Best - Logan Mankins
Logan Mankins was selected with the last pick in the first round by Belichick and the Patriots. There is just something about Belichick and being able to draft very good offensive lineman. Brady should be very thankful that Belichick places a priority on this position, unlike teams like Seattle.
Overall, Mankins turned out to be a very good offensive lineman for the Patriots. He was everything you want in a player. He fought through injury, stuck up for his teammates, and was a leader for the other o-linemen. Some of Mankins career highlights include seven Pro Bowl selections, a first team All-Pro, five time second team All-Pro, and an eventual Patriots Hall of Famer. He protected Brady for years and was a key part to the Pats' perfect regular season.
8 Worst - Bethel Johnson
I just discussed Belichick's great ability to draft offensive linemwn. However, the same cannot be said for wide receivers. If there is one position Belichick has struggled with the most, it is at wide-out. Bethel Johnson, a second round pick, fits into the category of worst. Remember, Anquan Boldin, and Jason Witten were picked after Johnson.
Johnson was never able to find his footing with the team and only played three seasons. He only caught 30 passes in his time in Foxborough before being traded. Johnson then bounced around from team to team (like a lot of former Patriots) before landing in the Canadian Football League. Johnson was eventually released from the CFL as well. Well hey, at least Johnson was part of two Super Bowl winning teams.
7 Best - Jerod Mayo
Jerod Mayo was definitely worth the 10th overall selection by Bill Belichick. Mayo was the perfect replacement for Tedy Bruschi. Mayo was able to step right in and become a tackling machine. He eventually became the captain and leader of the defense. This all helped Mayo earn a rookie of the year award, two Pro-Bowl selections, and an All-Pro Selection.
Overall, Mayo is the perfect example of a player fitting the "Patriot Way." He was quiet off the field, minded is own business, but dominant on the football field. If not for all the injuries he suffered, Mayo would probably still be playing at a high level today. I am glad Mayo got a ring before he chose to walk away from the game.
6 Worst - Brandon Meriweather
Brandon Meriweather was a first round pick that did not quite work out for the Patriots. People will look at his two Pro-Bowl selections with the team and think that he was a good player. However, I can argue that his selections to the Pro-Bowl were mostly based on name recognition for his big hits.
When you look deeper into the issue, you will see that Meriweather did not listen to his coaches. He even admitted to being benched for freelancing. Meriweather would also go for a huge hit instead of making the safe play and there were times when this cost the Patriots. Obviously, this upset Belichick and he released Meriweather before his rookie deal expired. Just goes to show it's the Patriot way or the highway in Foxborough.
5 Best - Vince Wilfork
Vince Wilfork was the ultimate New England Patriot. Wilfork was a great selection by Belichick in the first round of the 2004 draft, 21st overall. Wilfork immediately became a dominant player on the defensive line earning a ton of playing time in his rookie season. His numbers may not show high amounts of tackles and sacks, but Wilfork was great at stuffing the run and generating pressure up the middle on quarterbacks. Wilfork was often double teamed, which opened up the field for his teammates. He also became a major leader for the team and it is safe to say, he is one of Belichick's best picks.
Ultimately, it was sad to see Wilfork play in another uniform. I think Wilfork would be a perfect defensive linemen coach for the Pats one day.
4 Worst - Chad Jackson
To be fair to Belichick, the selection of Chad Jackson was praised by many analysts. After all, the Patriots had a need at the wide receiver position with players like David Givens and David Patten no longer with the team. Jackson was also regarded by many as the top wide-out in the draft. He had strong hands, was quick, and good run deep routes.
However, things just did not workout with Jackson and the Patriots. Jackson battled injuries throughout his rookie season and this undoubtedly stalled his development. Jackson also was never able to get on the same page as Brady and if you cannot do that, your time with the team will be short. Eventually, the second round pick was let go. Oh well, it's not like the Pats have trouble finding guys who can catch the ball.
3 Best - Richard Seymour
Richard Seymour was the highest draft pick Belichick has made during his tenure with the Patriots. Seymour was selected sixth overall in the 2001 draft. Seymour immediately became a cornerstone for the Patriots defense and made Belichick look like a genius. The defensive tackle played in New England for eight seasons and helped the team win three Super Bowls. Seymour was so good that teams had to game plan for him every week.
Ultimately, things did not end well in New England for Seymour. After asking for what Belichick deemed to be too much money, Seymour became enraged when he found out he was traded to the Oakland Raiders. However, do not let this distract you from the fact that Seymour is one of the great Patriots. This selection by Belichick was great.
2 Worst - Dominique Easley
Dominique Easley was a shocking pick at the time of his selection and the pick still surprises me three years later. I know Belichick likes to stun many with his draft choices, but this was another level. To be fair, Easley did show signs of dominance in his college days, but the problem was that Easley could never stay healthy. He had multiple knee surgeries before ever putting a Patriots helmet on. Red flag already. Add in the fact that he was an undersized defensive tackle and this pick was very questionable overall.
Easley was eventually released from his rookie contract and there were rumors he had a poor attitude and off the field concerns. Safe to say Belichick would love this first round pick back.
1 Best - Rob Gronkowski
As we've said in the intro, Brady is excluded from this list because we all know drafting him was THE greatest move in Belichick's tenure.
Rob Gronkowski has been a steal for the Patriots. Gronkowski was a first round talent, but many teams passed on him due to back issues. Belichick took a chance on Gronk and has been rewarded ever since. Although Gronk has been plagued by health issues, he is the best tight end in football, when he does play. He can block among the best tight ends, and is by far the best pass catcher. Hopefully, Gronk can find a way to stay healthy next season.
The behind the scenes of this Belichick draft pick are great. The Patriots were able to acquire a second round pick in 2009 from Jacksonville (also got a seventh rounder that ended up being Edelman). Eventually, they flipped that pick and a sixth rounder to Oakland to move up in the second round and take Gronkowski. Belichick is a wizard.