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BOSTON (CBS) — We can all agree that the NFL’s preseason is as meaningless as a political debate between Snooki and The Situation. Still, it was hard for all of us to not get a little excited about Chandler Jones’ first night in a Patriots uniform.
The rookie defensive end impressed in his debut, and he made the most headlines the following day for his performance. Statistically, Jones didn’t have much to show for his effort, but those who watched the game saw him pressure Drew Brees, dominate Pro Bowl tackle Jermon Bushrod and look like a solid pro in his first taste of NFL action.
Admittedly, though, the performance garnered a bit of an overreaction. Some people quickly began to compare the 22-year-old to some all-time greats. Is he Jevon Kearse? Jason Taylor? Is he a Jason Pierre-Paul clone? Either way, many people said the Patriots definitely won’t need Andre Carter anymore, not with the rook holding things down on the defensive line.
Of course, that was all a little over-the-top, and his performances throughout the rest of the preseason went largely unnoticed. Regardless, there are likely some lofty expectations for Jones as he enters the first real game of his professional career. To gauge whether that’s fair or not, it might be best to look at the debuts of the Patriots’ previous first-round picks in the Bill Belichick era.
Since taking over in 2000, Belichick has drafted exactly 11 players in the first round. They are:
Richard Seymour, 2001
Daniel Graham, 2002
Ty Warren, 2003
Vince Wilfork, 2004
Ben Watson, 2004
Logan Mankins, 2005
Laurence Maroney, 2006
Brandon Meriweather, 2007
Jerod Mayo, 2008
Devin McCourty, 2010
Nate Solder, 2011
Mankins and Solder obviously don’t record too much in the way of stats, so they’ll be left out of this. Here’s how they all fared in their debuts.
Seymour didn’t make his debut until Week 2 of his rookie season, when he recorded four total tackles against the New York Jets. He wasn’t the story that day, though, as most headlines were dedicated to the injury of Drew Bledsoe and the second-year kid from Michigan who would be taking over at quarterback.
Seymour didn’t register his first sack until Week 8 against Atlanta, and he’d finish the year with 44 total tackles and three sacks.
The tight end out of Colorado recorded no statistics in his NFL debut. The following week, he caught a pass … but lost six yards on the play. In Week 3, he finally made a positive impact, catching an 18-yard touchdown. He’d make just 15 catches for 150 yards and that lone score that year in his 12 games.
In the infamous 31-0 loss to the Bills, Warren made his Patriots debut and assisted on two tackles. He had a breakout game of sorts in Week 7, when he recorded seven total tackles, including his first sack. He finished the year with that one sack and 33 total tackles.
In Week 1 of the ’04 season, Wilfork made two solo tackles and four total. He recorded his first sack in Week 4, and he finished the year with two sacks and 42 total tackles. He hadn’t yet developed into the interception machine that we all know today.
Watson debuted with a two-catch performance for 16 yards, but that’s all he’d do for the year, as a knee injury ended his rookie season after just one game.
Perhaps the best of this bunch in terms of rookie debuts, Maroney rushed for 86 yards on 17 carries in his first game with New England. He scored his first touchdown the following week, when he rushed for 65 yards. He finished the season with 745 yards and six touchdowns on 175 carries (4.26 YPC), and he also caught 22 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown.
In a blowout win over the Jets (Spygate day!), Meriweather recorded one solo tackle while assisting on three more. He finished the season with 32 total tackles.
In the first game of what turned out to be a Defensive Rookie of the Year campaign, Mayo made six tackles, which was third-most on the team behind only Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison. However, Mayo didn’t make too many headlines, as those were mostly dedicated to Bernard Pollard’s hit that ended Tom Brady’s season. Mayo would finish the season with 128 tackles (100 solo).
In a win over the Bengals, McCourty made five tackles and recorded one pass defensed. Though he finished the season with seven interceptions, he didn’t make his first pick until Week 6 against San Diego.
So what does all this mean for Jones, and Dont’a Hightower, for that matter? Ultimately, nothing, but the history of past first-rounders should at least temper expectations for the rookie’s debut. Whether those first-rounders turned out to be great players (Seymour, Mayo, Wilfork), good players (Warren, McCourty) or busts (Maroney, Meriweather), the common theme among all of them was generally a quiet debut performance.