The Patriots had Richard Seymour, Matt Light, Damien Woody and Tom Brady in 2001. They had Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Sebastian Vollmer and Matthew Slater in 2010.
Under Bill Belichick, as the Patriots went from version 0.0 to 1.0 to 2.0, there was a young core in place that served as their pulse. As they went, the team went. Championships followed.
The outlook for version 3.0 is hazy. The young core is thin and rife with question marks after the Patriots went about maximizing Brady's last few seasons in New England by trading away picks for established veterans. Who makes up the core now? How many core pieces are there?
We're examining each of the Patriots' last four drafts to see how they got here, on the brink of a new era for the longest-running dynasty in modern NFL history, with an uncertain road ahead.
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In this edition we tackle the 2018 draft, when the Patriots had two first-round choices and got back to drafting in bulk after a meager (only four picks, none until the third round) 2017 class.
Isaiah Wynn, OL, Georgia (Round 1, Pick No. 23)
Good athlete. Smart. Came from an offense that wasn't a glorified seven-on-seven scheme. Wynn was an ideal Patriots offensive lineman, and he was physically gifted enough to earn a shot at the left tackle job despite being shorter and possessing shorter arms than the Patriots prototype.
He did get that shot, then tore his Achilles as a rookie. He came back to start his sophomore season on Tom Brady's blind side but got hurt again. A foot injury sapped half his season. All in all, he looks like he could be a staple up front for the Patriots. But he's played eight games in two years.
Who they could’ve had: D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland (Round 1, Pick 24)
Sony Michel, RB, Georgia (Round 1, Pick No. 31)
The Patriots double-dipped on Bulldogs in the first round, taking a running back who was projected to be a do-it-all pro. He was a dynamic, slashing runner who broke arm tackles regularly for Kirby Smart's program. But as a pro, his value in the passing game has been almost nonexistent.
He now looks like a specialist who would qualify as a Patriots "big back," taking on the role once held by LeGarrette Blount and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. There's value in that. He helped carry the team to a long playoff run and Super Bowl win in 2018. He could grow into more of a receiver or pass-protector moving forward. He's still young. But knee injuries have taken him off the field at times and perhaps stunted his growth.
Who they could’ve had: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville (Round 1, Pick 32)
Duke Dawson, CB, Florida (Round 2, Pick No. 56)
This pick was one of many that spawned from the Jimmy Garoppolo trade. Made sense at the time. He was a slot-specific defensive back. Slot corners have value because slot receivers are among the most efficient in football. Didn't pan out. Clearly.
He injured his hamstring during a drill in his rookie training camp, and was placed on injured reserve to start that season. The Patriots designated him as one of their players to return off of IR, but he never played a snap that season. He was traded the following summer to the Broncos (along with a seventh-round pick) to get a sixth-rounder in return.
Who they could’ve had: Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma (Round 3, Pick 86)
Ja'Whaun Bentley, LB, Purdue (Round 5, Pick No. 143)
Bentley was viewed — as a 260-pound linebacker — by some linebacker-needy teams as not being worthy of a spot on their draft board. He was a dinosaur. Too big. Too slow. Not someone who'd thrive when speed and quickness is becoming more important for second-level defenders in coverage. The Patriots didn't care. They like their 'backers beefy.
Bentley actually ended up winning a key defensive role right off the bat. He started the season-opener and two of his first three games. An injury in Week 3 sapped the remainder of his season. Stuck behind a deep linebacker group in his second season, Bentley didn't have much of a chance to make an impact. But that might be coming for him in Year 3. After losing Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts, they need capable bodies at the linebacker level. Given what he showed as a rookie, Bentley is certainly capable.
Who they could’ve had: Michael Dickson, P, Texas (Round 5, Pick 149)
Christian Sam, LB, Arizona State (Round 6, Pick No. 178)
Into Day 3 of the draft, the Patriots took their hacks at some potential special-teamers and reserve types. Sam falls into that category. A linebacker with good athleticism and toughness, he landed on injured reserve before the start of his rookie season. Sticking with the team for his Year 2 training camp, he was released and not re-signed to the practice squad. The Dolphins, run by former Patriots assistant Brian Flores, scooped him up for their practice squad first. He's since bounced around a bit to the Niners p-squad and the Lions p-squad. He's set to enter camp with Matt Patricia's Lions.
Who they could’ve had: Gus Edwards, RB, Rutgers (Undrafted)
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Braxton Berrios, WR, Miami (Round 6, Pick No. 210)
Berrios was a water bug-quick route runner with punt-return experience who was considered a leader for the Hurricanes during his tenure there. He was yet another rookie who ended up on IR for a team that was loaded with capable veteran contributors. It looked like 2019 might be his chance to work his way into a role, but he had an odd training camp. At times it looked like he was lost. At others he looked like he had an opportunity to fill the slot the Patriots wanted to address with Cole Beasley or Adam Humphries in free agency.
Then he was held out of preseason game No. 3. He was released at the end of camp. He seemed like an ideal candidate to try to sneak onto the practice squad. The Jets didn't let that happen. Despite limited preseason game reps, he was claimed off of waivers and added to their active roster. He ended up seeing offensive snaps in 11 games but caught just six passes on 10 targets for 115 yards.
Who they could’ve had: Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State (Undrafted)
Danny Etling, QB, LSU (Round 7, Pick No. 219)
The Patriots explained after the draft that they liked Etling's performance at his pro day. He had a good arm. He was smart. He might not have been coached up all that well at LSU. His offense there might've been a little wonky. Maybe he was a diamond in the rough?
While he was the consummate professional throughout his rookie camp, his highlight of the summer was an 86-yard touchdown run in the preseason finale. He spent that year on the practice squad and came back to Patriots camp the following summer as a receiver. He was waived before the end of camp and picked up by the Falcons. He spent most of the 2019 season on the Atlanta practice squad as a quarterback.
Who they could’ve had: Kyle Allen, QB, Houston (Undrafted)
Keion Crossen, CB, Western Carolina (Round 7, Pick No. 243)
The Patriots took a flier on an athlete from little-known Western Carolina, and by the end of the year, it looked like they'd hit. Crossen was a special-teams contributor throughout his rookie season — really all one could ask from a seventh-rounder — and he popped up in the AFC Championship Game that year with a key defensive role. For a period that day, he shadowed Chiefs burner Tyreek Hill with help over the top from safety Devin McCourty.
It looked like he could be molded into a defensive contributor with time. He didn't get that in New England, where the corner room was crowded. He was dealt to the Texans at the end of training camp in 2019 for a 2021 sixth-round pick.
Who they could’ve had: Levi Wallace, CB, Alabama (Undrafted)
Ryan Izzo, TE, Florida State (Round 7, Pick No. 250)
A Jersey kid who went to Florida State and became a key contributor in their pro style offense, Izzo made sense as a hard-nosed camp body. He'd compete with whoever was behind Rob Gronkowski. Make 'em work. He'd chip in on special teams, potentially. Still looked that way headed into 2019 after he missed his entire rookie season on IR (sensing a theme here?). We never assumed he'd be the defacto No. 1 tight end after Gronkowski retired. But he was at times. Matt LaCosse was injured. Other veteran acquisitions didn't work out.
Critical game snaps fell to Izzo for four weeks (Weeks 1, 3, 5, 6), who was serviceable as a receiver in spurts but looked overwhelmed in the running game. For 2020, he looks like a backup option to LaCosse and/or whatever tight end is drafted later this month. Izzo, A.J. Derby (2015) and Lee Smith (2011) are the three tight ends the Patriots drafted after taking Gronkowski in the second round in 2010.
Who they could’ve had: Poona Ford, DT, Texas (Undrafted)