By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — As a head coach, Bill Belichick is impeccable. By far the best in the NFL right now and arguably the greatest in history. But as a GM, his record has been spotty despite making the best decision of all time in drafting Tom Brady 199th overall.
The second round has had some particularly glaring misses, as Belichick has at times gone off the grid and befuddled draft “experts” by drafting players who were low on their boards (or not even there), like Tavon Wilson in 2012 and Jordan Richards in 2015. But he did the same with tackle Sebastian Vollmer in 2009, and despite questions about the move he turned out to be a pretty good right tackle and helped the Patriots win a Super Bowl.
The point is, the second round is a crapshoot. And if you want to point out how much Belichick has missed, then you need to put it in context. Like that everyone has their share of hits and misses, and the Patriots have not necessarily been any worse than their rivals.
The gears started grinding when Pro Football Talk’s Darin Gantt posted an article on Thursday with the headline: “Patriots track record on second-rounders less than impressive.” He brought it up mainly because the Patriots now own the 49ers’ second-round pick from the Jimmy Garoppolo trade, which will likely be in the mid-30s. Based on their track record, there’s a chance the pick turns out to be a bust.
It’s a good point, but not a fair one – because the story fails to mention literally any other team’s recent performance in the same round. In light of that, I did a perfectly scientific and airtight experiment in grading the “hits” and “misses” of the Patriots as compared to other successful AFC teams in recent years. Key word here is “successful,” because why would it even matter if the Jaguars or Lions had better drafting records? What matters is how the Patriots have done compared to their competition.
This may shock you, but the “criteria” for hits and misses here is actually completely arbitrary. They’re also only based on the five-year period of 2010-2014, because it’s too early to definitively gauge most picks made in the past three drafts and there’s little need to go too far back in time without needlessly plunging down a rabbit hole of mediocrity. But if you carved out a meaningful role on your team over the course of your rookie deal, preferably a consistent starting job, then you can be classified as a hit.
In the case of Garoppolo, he’s a hit because he will be the starting QB in San Francisco in due time, would have been in New England if not for Tom Brady’s transcendence, and ultimately netted the Pats what will be a pretty good draft pick. Some of these players could go either way, but no team has gone too far in either direction as far as hits and misses. Conclusion: the Patriots are no better or worse than anyone else, and to suggest otherwise would be disingenuous.
So here’s how I would judge the Patriots’ recent picks in the second round:
HITS: Rob Gronkowski (2010), Brandon Spikes (2010), Shane Vereen (2011), Jamie Collins (2013), Jimmy Garoppolo (2014)
MISSES: Jermaine Cunningham (2010), Ras-I Dowling (2011), Tavon Wilson (2012), Aaron Dobson (2013)
Even if you want to classify Spikes as a “miss”, despite the fact that he started 39 out of 51 games for the Patriots in four seasons here, that’s not quite as poor as you may be led to believe. It’s as boom-or-bust as the second round typically has been for other teams.
Need some proof of that? Here’s a look at the Steelers’ second-rounders from 2010-14:
HITS: OT Marcus Gilbert (2011), RB Le’Veon Bell (2013), DT Stephon Tuitt (2014)
MISSES: LB Jason Worilds (2010), OT Mike Adams (2012)
Little good, little bad, right? It’s almost as if drafting in the second round is hard and poses a lot of risk.
How about the Broncos?
HITS: G Zane Beadles (2010), OT Orlando Franklin (2011), DT Derek Wolfe (2012)
MISSES: S Rahim Moore (2011), QB Brock Osweiler (2012), RB Montee Ball (2013), WR Cody Latimer (2014)
Yes, I’m listing Osweiler as a “miss” even though he’s still in the league and was just named the Broncos’ starter. He’s been better than a lot of QBs from even the first round in recent years, but I just can’t bring myself to say he was actually a good selection. Even so … call him a “hit” and you’re not exactly looking at Bill Parcells here.
What about the Patriots’ historically tough playoff opponent, the Ravens?
HITS: WR Torrey Smith (2011), OT Kelechi Osemele (2012), LB Courtney Upshaw (2012), DT Timmy Jerningan (2014)
MISSES: DT Terrence Cody (2010), LB Sergio Kindle (2010), LB Arthur Brown Jr. (2013)
Literally none of their “hits” are still with the team, but they are all still in the league and earning starting jobs if not playing well. Kindle, meanwhile, is their Ras-I Dowling. The Bust To End All Busts.
And finally, the Chiefs:
HITS: C Rodney Hudson (2011), G Jeff Allen (2012)
MISSES: CB Javier Arenas (2010), WR Dexter McCluster (2010)
One totally salient counter-argument to this exercise would be this question: If the first round has a better chance of success and the second is a crapshoot, why does Belichick trade down there so much? Belichick himself has described the high-risk nature of the second round in the past, so he’s acknowledging how big of a gamble he’s taking when he trades out of the first. But such moves have also been hit-or-miss; the 2009 trade-down (Darius Butler over Clay Matthews) was a bad one, but nobody’s complaining about 2013 (Jamie Collins and Logan Ryan over Cordarrelle Patterson). I’d venture to guess that, just like the picks themselves, teams that trade down have similarly unpredictable results.
The point of this wasn’t to say the Patriots are actually good at drafting in the second round. They’re mediocre at it. But if they’re “bad”, so is everyone else. To argue (or even imply) that they’re markedly worse than any of their competition is an obvious fallacy, which you can plainly see when you actually look at how other teams have drafted.
The Patriots’ second-rounders next April could be great. They could be zeroes. But that’s the nature of that part of the draft. It’s boom-or-bust across the league, not just in Foxboro.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at email@example.com.