By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Ahh, the 2018 NFL Draft. The Patriots had two first-round picks after dealing Brandin Cooks to the L.A. Rams following the 2017 season, which gave them the 23rd overall pick and their own selection, No. 31 overall.
And surprisingly, Bill Belichick used both of those selections on the offensive side of the ball. But the 2018 NFL Draft will be forever remembered as the time the Patriots passed on dynamic quarterback Lamar Jackson — twice.
Yes, the Patriots still had Tom Brady on their roster when they made their picks, and he was doing some truly ridiculous things that a quarterback over the age of 40 had never done before in the NFL. But Belichick has said that quarterback is the position you want to be ahead of the game at, and with Brady’s age — and contract situation — maybe using one of those picks on a quarterback of the future would have been a wise decision.
Instead, he drafted Isaiah Wynn and Sony Michel. Wynn still has potential to be a bastion on the offensive line, and Michel was a big part of New England’s Super Bowl LIII title. But now that the Patriots are dealing in an “After Brady” timeline, this is a second-guess that will live forever.
The jury is still out on the four 2018 picks that remain in New England. But the fact that just four of Belichick’s ten selections are on the roster — and only one of them has had sort of impact — isn’t ideal. We’re kind of noticing a trend as we look back at Bill’s recent drafts.
This draft also included the pick the Patriots acquired from the 49ers for Jimmy Garoppolo, until Belichick traded it into oblivion so no one would ever be able to truly figure out what he got in return for the quarterback.
Rd. 1, No. 23: Isaiah Wynn, OL
With the pick acquired by sending Cooks to L.A., the Patriots addressed their future at left tackle. After losing Nate Solder to free agency, the Patriots took a promising blind-side protector in Wynn. (They also traded for a rather large gentleman named Trent Brown to allow the rookie some time to grow into the role.) Things were looking up for him in training camp, as he quickly became a team favorite when he caught a punt after the annual practice inside Gillette Stadium to earn everyone a day off. (It took two tries, but a day off in training camp is a day off in training camp.)
But Wynn missed his entire rookie season after suffering an Achilles injury in the preseason. He made his debut in the 2019 opener as New England’s starting left tackle (Brown left via free agency after a monster season in New England), but suffered a toe injury in Week 2 and was back on IR. He returned late in the season and started eight games total for the Patriots. It wasn’t a particularly great year for the New England offensive line, but that had more to do with stating center David Andrews being lost to blood clots before things kicked off and a Gronkowski-sized hole at tight end.
Given his lost rookie season, the jury is still out on Wynn. The 2020 season is a big one for him.
Verdict: Still has potential
Rd. 1, No. 31: Sony Michel, RB
Drafting Michel was a lightning rod for debate. Drafting a running back in the first round is not Belichick’s style, and fans will never forget that Jackson was taken by the Ravens (who traded up for the No. 32 pick) just one selection later. And many would have preferred the other running back out of Georgia’s backfield, Nick Chubb, who was the third pick in the second round.
But once Michel got going his rookie season, there wasn’t much that teams could do to stop him. With a stout offensive line opening up caverns for Michel to run though, the rook averaged 4.5 yards per carry and finished with more than half of is 931 rushing yards over the final six games of the season. He found the end zone six times in New England’s playoff march to a Super Bowl LIII title, setting an NFL rookie record. He scored the lone touchdown in the Pats’ Super Bowl victory over the Rams, capping off a solid rookie campaign.
But Michel took a step backward in 2019, averaging 3.7 yards per carry and finishing with 912 rushing yards in 16 games. He’ll have to be better in 2020, especially with someone other than Tom Brady leading the offense.
Verdict: Good pick, but folks will always remember Jackson was available
Rd. 2, No. 56: Duke Dawson, CB
As we’ve seen in previous entries, Belichick doesn’t have a great track record with drafting defensive backs in the second round. Dawson was the latest on Bill’s list of misses, a Day 2 pick that never amounted to much of anything in the New England defense.
Dawson started his rookie season on IR due to a hamstring injury. He was activated in November, but was never active on game day. The following August, he was traded to the Broncos for a sixth-round pick. That is a pretty terrible return for someone the Patriots invested a second-round pick on just 16 months prior.
Bill should probably stop drafting defensive backs in the second round.
Verdict: Not again…
Rd. 5, No. 143: Ja’Whaun Bentley, LB
Bentley was actually one of New England’s starting linebackers in Week 1 of his rookie season, and then two weeks later, he picked off Matthew Stafford for his first career interception. But a torn biceps ended his rookie campaign after just three games.
He played all 16 games last season, starting two of them, finishing with 44 combined tackles in his limited playing time. He figures to have a much bigger role in 2020.
Rd. 6, No. 178: Christian Sam, LB
Sam was placed on IR before his rookie season and never ended up playing a game for the Patriots. He spent time on the practice squads of the Dolphins, 49ers and Lions during the 2019 season.
Rd. 6, No. 210: Braxton Berrios, WR
Berrios also missed his rookie season on IR, and was then claimed by the Jets ahead of the 2019 season before ever suiting up for the Patriots.
Rd. 7, No. 219: Danny Etling, QB
When Belichick drafted Etling in the last round of the 2018 draft, some wondered if the Patriots had found another diamond in the rough at QB. They did not, as Etling was cut and signed to the practice squad before the season. He was cut the following August, and has since bounced off and on the Atlanta Falcons roster and practice squad.
Rd. 7, No. 243: Keion Crossen, CB
Crossen played a little bit of special teams for New England in 2018, but was dealt to the Houston Texans for a sixth-round pick ahead of the 2019 season. That trade opened up a roster spot for Gunner Olszewski on the 2019 Patriots.
Rd. 7, No. 250: Ryan Izzo, TE
Izzo didn’t play as a rookie, landing on IR, but he was in New England’s plans in 2019 after Gronkowski’s retirement. But replacing Gronk is a monumental task, and a tall ask for a seventh-round pick. He finished with just six receptions for 114 yards and a touchdown, playing just six games due to injury.
2018 Verdict: What Could Have Been…
Three of New England’s first four picks in the 2018 draft still have the potential to become everyday contributors. If Wynn can become Jarrett Stidham’s/Brian Hoyer’s/Whoever Else’s blind-side protector for years to come, then that’s a solid pick. Michel helped them win a Super Bowl so that helps his cause — and Belichick’s for drafting a running back in the first round — but given how the Patriots offensive line played in 2018, most running backs probably could have replicated Michel’s output. Bentley should get a lot of run given the turnover at linebacker this season, so we’ll see if he’s up to that challenge.
But Dawson was another huge miss. We should probably just expect that at this point if Belichick takes a defensive back in the second round.
And now that Brady’s days in New England are over, and with no clear option for the future, we’ll always be wondering what could have been if Lamar Jackson was wearing a Patriots uniform.