Bill Belichick has been one of the NFL's best drafters in his two decades running the New England Patriots. If you won't take my word for it, at least take it from legendary team builder and Hall of Famer, Gil Brandt.
But as is the case with any great talent evaluator, there are hits and there are misses. And some of the misses for Belichick have been painful.
Belichick has mostly been great at navigating the first round. And his ability to find immediate contributors in the later rounds deserves praise as well.
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But Belichick's struggles in Rounds 2 and 3 show some of his weak spots. As do some of the reaches he's made through the years.
Not all busts can be avoided. But in the Belichick Era, he's picked up his fair share of non-contributors with premium picks. We'll cut some more slack on the late-round picks (can you really be a bust if you're a seventh-rounder?), but here's a look at Belichick's worst picks by round since he came to the Patriots.
Round 1: Dominique Easley, DL, 2014
Belichick has a pretty great track record of taking solid defensive linemen in the first round. Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, and Ty Warren all played key roles in the Patriots' dominance at the beginning of their dynasty.
However, Easley was a big swing and a miss in 2014. Easley was considered to have talent, but he was rehabbing from a torn ACL in 2014 and that caused him to fall to the Patriots' pick at 29th overall. He had the upside needed to be a good pass-rushing contributor.
Unfortunately, Easley never developed with the Patriots. He played in 22 games in two years with the team and recorded 25 tackles and three sacks. That, in short, is not what the team was expecting from Easley after spending a first-round pick on him.
Easley was cut after two disappointing seasons and played three more seasons with the Los Angeles Rams. He missed all of 2017 with another ACL tear and played in just three games in 2018. He did not play in the NFL last season.
Dishonorable Mentions: RB Laurence Maroney
Round 2: Ras-I Dowling, DB, 2011
In the 2010 NFL Draft, the Patriots made the brilliant move to trade their 2010 third-round pick, used on Armanti Edwards, to the Carolina Panthers for a 2011 second-round pick. The Pats were always going to benefit from that deal, but little did they know at the time that the Panthers would finish dead last in the NFL and that would give New England the first pick in the second round.
While the trade was a win on paper for the Patriots, in hindsight, both players were busts. The Patriots used the 33rd pick in 2011 on Ras-I Dowling and he never did much.
Dowling lasted only two injury-plagued seasons with the Patriots. He played in a total of nine games and made 10 tackles. In his final season with the team, he played just 7.6 percent of the defensive snaps. And in 2013, the team cut him when they trimmed the roster to 75, signifying that they believed the former highly-touted corner was a lost cause.
Dowling played only three NFL games after being cut. They came in 2014 with the Oakland Raiders and he had one tackle.
If drafting Dowling wasn't bad enough, the team passed on some solid talent in order to add him. Kyle Rudolph, Randall Cobb, and Rodney Hudson all went later in the second round while Justin Houston and Jurrel Casey went in the third round. Any one of those names would have been more productive in New England than Dowling.
Dishonorable Mentions: WR Chad Jackson, CB Cyrus Jones
Round 3: Kevin O'Connell, QB, 2008
The Patriots decided to take a quarterback to develop behind Tom Brady and Matt Cassel in 2008. Kevin O'Connell was their choice, but he didn't last long with the Patriots.
O'Connell spent just one season in New England. He appeared in two games, going 4-of-6 for 23 yards, while mostly backing up Cassel after Brady suffered a season-ending ACL tear in the first game of the season.
Before the 2009 season began, the Patriots cut O'Connell. They opted to go with undrafted free agent Brian Hoyer as their backup over the former third-round pick. O'Connell would bounce around to four other NFL teams until his final stint in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers in 2012.
O'Connell has since become a hot, young coaching candidate and is set to serve as the Los Angeles Rams' offensive coordinator this season. But the Patriots didn't draft him to be a coach and considering that they could've landed WR Mario Manningham (picked right after O'Connell) or DB Tyvon Branch (picked six spots later), this was a missed opportunity for the Patriots to build on a strength.
Dishonorable Mentions: DE Jake Bequette, OT Antonio Garcia, DE Geneo Grissom, WR Taylor Price
Round 4: TE Aaron Hernandez, 2010
It looked like the Patriots had found a gem in 2010 after the first three seasons of Aaron Hernandez's career. As part of the team's two tight end attack with Rob Gronkowski, Hernandez averaged 684 scrimmage yards and six touchdowns per season and was a dynamic playmaking threat on the field.
But off the field, Hernandez's story is well known. On June 17, 2013, the body of Odin Lloyd, who was dating Shaneah Jenkins, sister of the fiancée of Aaron Hernandez, was found in a North Attleborough industrial park one mile from Hernandez's home. Hernandez was arrested nine days later and charged with first-degree murder.
The news rocked the NFL. And just hours after Hernandez's arrest, the Patriots cut him. In the next few years, Hernandez was tried for the murder of Lloyd and was eventually convicted on the charges and sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole. Patriots owner Robert Kraft testified in the trial and his testimony about what Hernandez told him in the days after the murder provided powerful circumstantial evidence that helped the jury reach their verdict.
Hernandez was also indicted for the 2012 murders of Daniel Jorge Correia de Abreu and Safiro Teixeira Furtado, but he was acquitted of those charges.
On April 19, 2017, Hernandez took his own life in prison at the age of 27. And following his death, it was confirmed that Hernandez suffered from severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Obviously, selecting Hernandez was a massive mistake. The man simply wasn't stable. He had problems that could be traced far back to the death of his father while Hernandez was in high school in Bristol, Connecticut, and included a 2007 bar fight and a double shooting Hernandez was involved in that same year while at the University of Florida.
Belichick couldn't have foreseen exactly how Hernandez's life would play out. But if you ask Belichick, he'd probably identify this as his biggest draft mistake of all time.
Dishonorable Mentions: N/A
Round 5: DL Jeff Marriott, 2000
As we get into the later rounds, it's hard to really call anyone as true "bust". After all, these guys were late-round picks for a reason. They may have upside, but it's certainly not as high as the players selected in the first few rounds.
The final three busts on here are less about performance and more about lack thereof. None of these guys ever suited up for the Patriots. That alone doesn't make them busts, but the talent that the team passed on some quality players in landing these guys is what makes them the worst overall draft picks.
For the fifth round, we have to go all the way back to Belichick's first Patriots draft in 2000 to find his biggest bust. Part of that is because the Patriots had just one fifth-round pick from 2012-2017, but Jeff Marriott simply wasn't a good selection for the Patriots.
Marriott was selected 161st overall and never suited up for the Patriots. He didn't make the team in 2000 and no other NFL team gave him a shot to prove himself. He never played a down in the NFL.
Mariott was the fifth player the Patriots selected in 2000. The seventh player they took in that draft was none other than Tom Brady. Other players the team passed on included QB Marc Bulger, K Neal Rackers, and LB Adalius Thomas. All three made the Pro Bowl during their respective careers.
Dishonorable Mentions: OL George Bussey, LB Ryan Claridge
Round 6: G Dan Stevenson, 2006
Stevenson was a supplemental sixth-round pick in 2006, so once again, not much was expected of him. But he didn't make the Patriots team in 2006. He spent half of the season on the practice squad before being released.
Stevenson would get picked up by the Miami Dolphins and had him on the roster, but inactive, for the final two games in 2006. He didn't survive final cuts in 2007 and spent about a year with the Houston Texans after being signed to their practice squad late in the 2007 season.
But again, the bust here is less about the player the Patriots got and more about what they could've had. The Patriots had back-to-back sixth-round picks and chose Stevenson and Le Kevin Smith.
After Smith came off the board, the Indianapolis Colts selected Antoine Bethea, who blossomed into a Pro Bowl player and was a thorn in the side of the Patriots early in his career, logging three interceptions in his first three regular-season games against the squad.
And 10 picks after Stevenson was selected, the Tennessee Titans selected Cortland Finnegan. The fiery cornerback was an All-Pro in 2008 and would've given the Patriots yet another great player in their secondary as well as more insurance for Asante Samuel, who left the Patriots in the 2008 offseason after five years with the team.
One last player that Patriots could've had? New Orleans Saints wide receiver, Marques Colston. Colston played 10 NFL seasons as Drew Brees' No. 1 receiver. He had eight seasons of at least 900 receiving yards and totaled 72 regular-season touchdowns in his career. Having him in the Patriots receiving corps would've given Tom Brady yet another great weapon to target in his prime.
Dishonorable Mentions: LB Matthew Wells, LB Bo Ruud, LB Markell Carter
Round 7: K Owen Pochman, 2001
Again, it's the seventh round, so we're not going to be too hard on the team for selecting players that didn't pan out. That said, Owen Pochman didn't fill a need at all and had a poor NFL career.
Adam Vinatieri was still on the Patriots at the time of the 2001 NFL Draft and was coming off a season that had seen him make 82 percent of his field goals. Sure, he had only made 1-of-3 from 50+ yards, but he was still a solid kicker and had yet to turn 30.
Nonetheless, Belichick picked Pochman in the seventh round. He didn't make the Patriots team and spent a few seasons bouncing around the NFL. He played with the New York Giants in 2001 and missed his only two field goal attempts (though both were from 50+ yards away).
In 2003, he got another shot to kick with the San Francisco 49ers. Pochman was much worse in that stint, only making 8-of-15 field goals in six games with the team. That marked the end of his NFL career.
Per Pro Football Reference, Pochman's Approximated Value -- PFR's WAR-type statistic -- over the course of his career was negative-2. That's the worst mark of any player selected in the 2001 class and is only the third negative AV by a drafted player since 2001; QB Ryan Lindley (-4) and K Nate Freese (-1) are the others.
Dishonorable Mentions: N/A
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