Dominique Easley

Bill Belichick's worst NFL Draft picks by round with Patriots

Bill Belichick's worst NFL Draft picks by round with Patriots

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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Great Patriots Debate: Who was the most disappointing draft pick in team history?

Great Patriots Debate: Who was the most disappointing draft pick in team history?

Today's Great Patriots Debate had several different working titles before we settled on the word "disappointing."

If we simply went with "worst" pick, we'd be robbed of discussing all the what-if scenarios presented by players who suffered injuries during their pro careers and never panned out. 

If we went with "biggest whiff," we'd run into the same issue. Hard to fault anyone for what happened to Robert Edwards (except maybe the NFL for holding a flag football game in the sand during Pro Bowl week) or to point fingers at anyone for Ras-I Dowling's inability to stay healthy (though he entered the league with some health concerns). 

If we stick with biggest disappointments, we can lump together every high-end pick that didn't pan out — for whatever reason. Were they injured prior to their pro careers and stayed that way? Injured after the fact, providing the Patriots with nary a highlight? Could they simply... not play? 

Let's pose the question to you before laying out some of the options: If you were to peg one player, who would you choose as the most disappointing draft pick in franchise history?

Your answer will depend largely on when you were born. If you're old enough to remember the Patriots taking receiver Tom Reynolds with the No. 49 overall pick in 1972 and then saw him get just eight touches as a rookie before moving on to the Bears, that might rank right up there for you. Same could be said for 1974 second-rounder Steve Corbett, who played just 14 games after going No. 30 overall (four picks ahead of Patriots Hall of Famer Steve Nelson).

There was no shortage of draft-day letdowns in the 1980s, either. Running back Vagas Ferguson went No. 25 overall in 1980 and scored just five times in essentially two seasons. Running back Robert Weathers did less than that as the No. 40 overall choice — taken one spot before Hall of Famer Andre Tippett — two years later. Receiver Darryal Wilson (second-rounder, 1983), nose tackle Mike Ruth (second, 1986) and Reggie Dupard (first, 1986) certainly didn't help the Patriots build up any foundation upon which to construct a contender. Hart Lee Dykes, an explosive athlete taken with the No. 16 overall pick in 1989, suffered a series of injuries (including an eye injury in a fight outside a club in 1990) that eventually cost him his career.

Then came the Pete Carroll era with drafts headed up by Bobby Grier. Corner Chris Canty has an argument as one of the worst picks in franchise history, providing very little after being made the No. 29 overall selection in 1997. He was gone by 1999 and out of the league by the end of the 2000 season.

The team struck gold in the first round with Edwards in 1998 until he was injured, then it missed on a pair of second-rounders in the same class: receiver Tony Simmons and tight end Rod Rutledge. Andy Katzenmoyer (No. 28 overall) was part of a two-pronged first-round for New England the following year — Damien Woody went No. 17 — but he suffered a neck injury and walked away from the game in 2001. What looked like a player who might help redefine the linebacker position for the Patriots ended up playing just 24 career games. 

Bill Belichick, like any longtime personnel chief, has certainly had misses in the draft over the course of his two decades in Foxboro. The second round has been where he's taken his biggest swings, hitting on the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Sebastian Vollmer. But he's also gotten little-to-no production from second-rounders like Bethel Johnson (2003), Terrence Wheatley (2008), Dowling (2011), Aaron Dobson (2013), Jordan Richards (2015) or Cyrus Jones (2016), who suffered a torn ACL before the start of his sophomore season. Arguably the worst of the bunch was one of Belichick's highest second-round choices, wide receiver Chad Jackson (No. 36 overall, 2006). 

The first round has seen Belichick get at the very least solid returns out of almost every pick, with the exception of Dominique Easley. Like many of Belichick's second-round dice-rolls, the No. 29 choice in 2014 pick was a gamble. Easley came into the NFL with a history of significant knee injuries and could not stay healthy during his time in New England. He was released less than two years after he was drafted.

If I had to narrow it down — based on what was expected of the players at the time they were selected and what they ended up contributing — I'd say Canty, Katzenmoyer, Jackson and Easley all deserve to be considered right near the top of this list. And that's not even considering which players were drafted after those guys. 

Jason Taylor, the Barber twins and Sam Madison came after Canty; five-time Pro Bowler Al Wilson and Joey Porter were taken after Katzenmoyer; Greg Jennings, Andrew Whitworth and Maurice Jones-Drew followed Jackson; Jarvis Landry, Davante Adams, Stephon Tuitt, DeMarcus Lawrence and Kyle Van Noy were selected after Easley.

But again, my choices might be different than yours because of when I was born. Can't help it. Be sure to make the case for your biggest disappointment on our Facebook page or in our Twitter poll that can be found @philaperry. 

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Patriots should have drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in the first round

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Patriots should have drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in the first round

It goes without saying that if the Patriots knew Tom Brady was going to be Tom Brady, they wouldn’t have waited until the sixth round to take him. They’d have taken him in the first round. 

Here’s the thing, though: Not taking Brady in the first round never hurt the Patriots. It actually might in the case of Jimmy Garoppolo. 

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The Patriots should have drafted Garoppolo in the first round. Seriously. 

Of course this is being said in hindsight, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s true. If the Patriots drafted Garoppolo in the first round rather than the second in 2014, they’d be paying him a bit more but they'd also have him for an extra year on his rookie deal thanks to the fifth-year option that exists for first-round picks. With Brady not yet done and potential years of franchising ahead, that extra season of Garoppolo’s rookie deal could prove to be crucial. 

First, a look back at the 2014 draft. As you may recall, Garoppolo’s selection in the second round turned heads. Them taking him a round earlier (which would have put his selection before Teddy Bridgewater’s) might have made those very same heads explode. 

That would have been the right move, however, especially when you consider what they did with that first-round pick. The Pats took Dominique Easley 29th overall, a player they put on IR in back-to-back seasons before releasing. He enjoyed a bounceback campaign with the Rams last season, but his 2017 season is already over after tearing his ACL in training camp. 

So say the Pats didn’t take Easley and instead chose to shock the world and take Garoppolo. Here’s where they’d stand: They’d have paid Garoppolo more by now (Bridgewater, taken three picks after where the Pats picked in the first, got a four-year $6,849,502 contract, whereas Garoppolo got $3,483,898 over four years), but they would not yet be facing the question of what’s next. 

Garoppolo will be a free agent at season’s end, at which point the Patriots might need to franchise him or use the transition tag to retain his services. Had they taken him in the first round and exercised the fifth-year option, they wouldn’t need to worry about the franchise tag until the 2019 season, at which point Brady would be 42. That’s a much easier pill to swallow for one year if they’re seriously entertaining making a switch to Garoppolo the year after in 2020. 

So what would that fifth-year option cost? For first-round picks taken outside of the top 10, the salary is calculated by averaging the third through 25th-highest salaries at the player’s position in the fourth year of the deal. My math has it at $10,419,705.70; CBS Sports (which has a chart and is therefore likely way more correct) has it at $12,198,000.

That isn’t chump change, but it is compared to having to pay for the franchise tag. This season, the franchise tag for a quarterback is $21.268 million. That number will only be higher a year later. 

The Patriots seemingly indicated by not trading Garoppolo this offseason that they believe in him. It was a bold stance to take when they seemingly could have gotten a haul of draft picks. If the Pats had taken as bold a stance on draft back a few years back, perhaps their future at quarterback would be just a tad less murky.

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