Ranking the Patriots' first-round picks under Bill Belichick
Our pal Henry McKenna over at The Big Lead had an interesting post ranking the 55 first-round quarterbacks drafted since the start of the BCS era. It was very interesting, but also troubling because it had Eli Manning ahead of Philip Rivers. Get out of here, Henry.
At any rate, its existence did get me in the draft pick-ranking mood, so here's a ranking of the 15 players Bill Belichick has drafted in the first round for the Patriots:
15. Dominique Easley, 2014 (No. 29)
This one has opportunity cost written all over it. Not only did the Pats take a player they'd release after two seasons, but that was also the draft in which they took Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round. Had they taken Jimmy G in the first, they would have had a fifth-year option for the player, meaning they might not have had to trade him when they did.
14. Daniel Graham, 2002 (No. 21)
Not a bad player, but also not great return for the 21st pick. Graham had seven touchdowns in his third season, but he only had one season with at least 400 receiving yards in his five-year stint in New England.
13. Malcom Brown, 2015 (No. 29)
Come back in a year and there's a good chance Brown's ahead of Maroney, Watson and perhaps even Meriweather. Brown has traits of a dominant defensive tackle and he's shown it at points, but hasn't done it for long enough to warrant a higher ranking.
12. Laurence Maroney, 2006 (No. 21)
This will be the spot with which people will take most umbrage, but for as infuriating as it was to watch Maroney dance behind the line, he was a decent back for the Pats during a stretch where they didn't run the ball with one back as much as they did in the Corey Dillon days. That's an obvious chicken-egg situation, but Maroney still averaged 890 yards per 16 games over this three healthy seasons (2006, 2007, 2009) with the Pats. He also might have won them a playoff game in 2007 with his 122-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Chargers in the AFC Championship.
11. Benjamin Watson, 2004 (No. 32)
He's known more for that one tackle than he is for any of the 186 catches he made for the Patriots, but he was a very dependable (if unremarkable) option for Tom Brady. This was also a solid pick given that the Pats chose Watson over Florida tight end Ben Troupe, whom many had ranked ahead of Watson entering the draft. Watson would prove to be the better player, as Troupe spent just five years in the league, while Watson is still going strong with the Saints at 37.
10. Brandon Meriweather, 2007 (No. 24)
Where McCourty can tackle, Meriweather could hit. His issue was that he wasn't a bright enough player to do much else.
9. Nate Solder, 2011 (No. 17)
Solder had pretty high bust potential coming out of college given that he was a converted tight end who didn't play tackle until his redshirt sophomore season. The Patriots bet on him being a quick learner (he was an Outland Trophy finalist in 2010) and made him the second tackle chosen in a strong class (Anthony Castonzo and Gabe Carimi went after him). While Solder never blossomed into a star, he proved to be a steady protector for Tom Brady under the coaching of Dante Scarnecchia.
8. Ty Warren, 2003 (No. 13)
Injuries eventually halted his career, but Warren was a force on New England's defense for years. Those Patriots defensive lines will rightfully be remembered more for guys like Seymour and Wilfork, but Warren was a first-team All-Pro in 2007.
7. Chandler Jones, 2012 (No. 21)
Jones spent only four seasons with the Pats, but he accomplished plenty in that time. The Syracuse product became a first-team All-Pro, two-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion. Also, the synthetic weed stuff.
6. Dont'a Hightower, 2012 (No. 25)
A point that can never be made enough: Hightower's strip-sack of Matt Ryan in Super Bowl LI would be the best sports moment ever for a lot of other cities. He also set up the Malcolm Butler interception by tripping up Marshawn Lynch at the 1-yard line in Super Bowl XLIX. The definition of a big-game player.
5. Devin McCourty, 2010 (No. 27)
Something of a late riser in his draft, McCourty was intriguing enough for the Patriots to pass on Dez Bryant twice so they could take him. While Bryant has obviously had the more dazzling career, there's been very little to not love about McCourty, who earned a second-team All-Pro.
4. Jerod Mayo, 2008 (No. 10)
Just a classic "the Patriots are smarter than other people" pick. Mayo was not considered a mid-to-late first-round pick, but that's because folks are dummies: This was when top inside linebackers did not fall in the draft, and the Patriots were wise to not dilly dally. Holding the seventh pick from San Francisco, Belichick moved down to No. 10 with the Saints, picking up a third-round pick in the process and getting a staple for his defense.
3. Logan Mankins, 2005 (No. 32)
This one is great for two reasons: For one, the Pats went way off board by making Mankins, a tackle in college, a first-round pick. For another, he was an absolute monster. Depending on whether Randy Moss' tenure was long enough to qualify in such an argument, Mankins was arguably the best Patriot of the Belichick era to somehow never win a Super Bowl.
2. Vince Wilfork, 2004 (No. 21)
Just a hilarious fortunate pick. The Pats needed a fixture at defensive tackle after losing Ted Washington in free agency, and Wilfork was a borderline top-10 prospect who fell to No. 21 because the Texans went for Dunta Robinson with the 10th pick and the Bears preferred Tommie Harris at No. 14. Wilfork went on to win two Super Bowls in addition to being a five-time Pro Bowler and four-time All Pro with one first-team nod.
1. Richard Seymour, 2001 (No. 6)
Bill Belichick didn't have a first-round pick in his first draft in New England (the league gave it to the Jets in exchange for him), but he made his first pick a year later count. Ignoring fans' cries for a receiver like David Terrell, Belichick got himself a beast of a defensive lineman and was rewarded for it immediately. Seymour started for the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI as a rookie, helping them win that title and two more. He was also a seven-time Pro Bowler and a first-team All-Pro in three consecutive years.