By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The NFL draft is one of the most important weekends for teams looking to build its roster into a contender. Teams can add a boatload of cheap talent onto its roster, setting themselves up for years of success down the road.READ MORE: Bogaerts, AL Wild Card-Leading Red Sox Top O's 9-3
Or teams can really beef things up and set the franchise back for a decade.
The Patriots have been somewhere in the middle over the last decade, though there have been more years of beefing than there has been building. It didn’t matter much when Tom Brady was making up for most of those roster deficiencies, but as we know, that isn’t happening anymore. So with 10 picks this year, Bill Belichick can’t really afford to miss on many of them — if any.
“If you want to have a good consistent winning football team, you can’t do it in free agency. You have to do it through the draft because that is when you’re able to get people of great talent, whether it’s Willie [McGinest] or Tom Brady. You get them at a price where you can build a team and be competitive,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said on a conference call earlier this week. “The teams who draft well are the ones who will be consistently good. I don’t feel we’ve done the greatest job the last few years, but I hope and I believe I’ve seen a different approach this year.”
That is, in no uncertain terms, Kraft telling Belichick not to screw this one up. Bill has certainly had his share of hits in the draft, but the cupboard has been pretty bare for quite a while in terms of talent on the Patriots roster added through the draft.
So with this year’s draft just a few weeks away, we’re going to take a look back at Belichick’s biggest misses. (We also took a look at his biggest hits in the draft, so don’t call us negative nellies just yet) Since the draft is a pretty big crapshoot, we’re not going to dock him for anything after the fourth round. These are his misses in the early rounds, some of which really hurt the Patriots down the road.
Bethel Johnson, WR: Drafted in 2nd Round, 45th overall, in 2003
Johnson was lighting fast and had some good returns for the Patriots, but he couldn’t catch a cold. He caught just 30 passes in his three seasons with the Patriots. He did return two kickoffs for touchdowns, but it was nothing that warranted a second-round pick.
The Patriots won a pair of Super Bowls after drafting Johnson though, so did this miss really matter?
Guss Scott, DB: Drafted in 3rd Round, 95th overall, in 2004
The Florida product played just five games for the Patriots as a rookie and one game in 2005 before he was let go. Not a great follow up after Bill’s two big hits — Vince Wilfork and Ben Watson — in the first round.
Chad Jackson, WR: Drafted in 2nd Round, 36th overall, in 2006
Another ultra-speedy receiver that didn’t work out for the Pats. Jackson had just 13 catches and three touchdowns in 12 games as a rookie. He tore his ACL in the 2006 AFC Championship Game and played just two games in his second season. He was released by the Patriots on cutdown day prior to the 2008 season.
Garrett Mills, TE/FB: Drafted in 4th Round, 106th overall, in 2006
Taken after the Patriots drafted Texas tight end David Thomas, Mills was going to be a hybrid fullback/tight end. But he didn’t play at all and landed on IR in the middle of his rookie season. He was released ahead of the 2007 season without playing a game for New England.
Kareem Brown, DL: Drafted in 4th Round, 127th overall, in 2007
Brown never played for the Patriots, and was waived in Week 11 of his rookie year. He was immediately claimed by the New York Jets and appeared in one game in 2007 — the only game of his NFL career. He spent time on the Jets, Giants and Titans practice squads before retiring in 2011.
Terrence Wheatley, DB: Drafted in 2nd Round, 62nd overall, in 2008
Wheatley played just 11 games in two seasons with the Patriots and was waived by the team in 2010.
Shawn Crable, LB: Drafted in 3rd Round, 78th overall, in 2008
Crable spent his first two seasons with the Patriots on IR due to injuries, and was released by the team ahead of the 2010 season. He was re-signed and played six games that season, but was waived in mid-November.
Kevin O’Connell, QB: Drafted in 3rd Round, 94th overall, in 2008
O’Connell was a mobile quarterback coming out of San Diego State and was supposed to be Tom Brady’s backup, but he couldn’t learn the Patriots’ playbook — something Belichick made clear when O’Connell signed with the Jets in 2011. He was waived by New England ahead of the 2009 season.
Ron Brace, DT: Drafted in 2nd Round, 40th overall, in 2009
The late Ron Brace — a Springfield kid who went to Boston College — had four decent seasons for the Patriots, but nowhere near what they should have gotten out of a player drafted so high.
Darius Butler, CB: Drafted in 2nd Round, 41st overall, in 2009
Belichick kept it local with this pick too, drafting the UConn defensive back to help in the secondary. Butler played in 29 games for the Patriots, including eight starts, over two seasons, but was part of the problem with some extremely weak New England secondaries. He was released ahead of the 2011 season and after one year with the Carolina Panthers, had a pretty good six-year run with the Indianapolis Colts.
Jermaine Cunningham, LB: Drafted in 2nd Round, 53rd overall, in 2010
Belichick had a really good draft in 2010, brining in talents like Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. He even hit on punter Zoltan Mesko in the fifth round.
Cunningham was New England’s third pick of that draft, and he didn’t do much over three seasons in New England. He had just 3.5 sacks over 36 games, and was cut ahead of the 2013 season.
It stings a little more when you see that Carlos Dunlap and Sean Lee were the next two picks off the board after Cunningham.READ MORE: BC Football Goes To 3-0 With 28-3 Win Over Temple
Taylor Price, WR: Drafted in 3rd Round, 90th overall, in 2010
Belichick also whiffed in taking Price in the third round, with the receiver playing in just four games over a season-and-a-half with the Patriots. Price played just one game his rookie season, the final week of the year, and quickly lost the trust of Brady in his second year. And that was that. He played in only three games in 2011 before being released in December. For his Patriots career, Price caught just three passes.
Tight end Jimmy Graham was taken just five picks after Price went off the board. Ouch.
Ras-I Dowling, DB: Drafted in 2nd Round, 33rd overall, in 2011
Dowling wasn’t even on most people’s draft boards, but Belichick took the Virginia product in the second round. It will go down as his worst pick ever.
Dowling spent most of his time with the Patriots on IR, playing just nine games over two seasons. He was cut ahead of the 2013 season.
Tavon Wilson, DB: Draft in 2nd Round, 48th overall, in 2012
Wilson did play in 54 games in four seasons for the Patriots, with a few starts mixed in, but nothing that warranted such a high pick.
Aaron Dobson, WR: Drafted in 2nd Round, 59th overall, in 2013
Dobson could have maybe been a decent receiver for the Patriots, but injuries, drops and a lack of trust from Brady ended that. He was released ahead of the 2016 season after catching 53 passes for 698 yards and four touchdowns over three seasons. He didn’t play in an NFL game after his release from New England.
Travis Kelce was drafted four picks later with the first selection of the third round.
Dominique Easley, DE: Drafted in 1st Round, 29th overall, in 2014
This is a tough one, because Easley had a ton of upside coming out of Florida. Injuries were the biggest concern with him, and that’s exactly what kept him from making an impact in his NFL career.
It was a risky pick for the Patriots, one that could have paid off had Easley stayed healthy. But he didn’t and was cut after two seasons.
Jordan Richards, DB: Drafted in 2nd Round, 64th overall, in 2015
Richards played a lot of special teams during his three years with the Patriots, but that doesn’t warrant a second-round pick. Not for a guy who wasn’t high on anyone’s draft boards.
Cyrus Jones, DB: Drafted in 2nd Round, 60th overall, in 2016
The Patriots didn’t have a first round pick because of some deflated ball scandal. They may as well not have had a second-round pick either, because Jones was a wasted selection.
Belichick likely envisioned Jones as a weapon on special teams, but Jones fumbled five times as a rookie. He was inactive for the Super Bowl against the Falcons, tore his ACL ahead of his second season, and released before his third.
Vincent Valentine, DT: Drafted in 3rd Round, 96th overall, in 2016
Valentine played just 28 percent of New England’s defensive snaps as a rookie, was placed on IR ahead of his second year, and waived before the 2018 season.
At least Belichick drafted Joe Thuney and Jacoby Brissett between the Jones and Valentine picks.
Derek Rivers, DE: Drafted in 3rd Round, 85th overall, in 2017
The Maine native was a sack machine for Youngstown State, but tore his ACL during training camp and missed his entire rookie year. He played in six games in 2018, but missed all of 2019 on IR. He was waived last November, finishing his Patriots career with 2.5 sacks in 14 games.
Antonio Garcia, OT: Drafted in 3rd Round, 85th overall, in 2017
This is just an unfortunate story. Garcia developed blood clots in his lungs and never ended up playing for the Patriots. He was released in May 2018 and bounced around a few teams, but has never played in an NFL game.
The Patriots had just four picks in 2017. Deatrich Wise (drafted in the fourth round) is the only pick to turn into anything.
Duke Dawson, DB: Drafted in 2nd Round, 56th overall, in 2018
Maybe Belichick should stop drafting defensive backs in the second round. Because Dawson is yet another one that did nothing for the Patriots.
Drafted well ahead of where most mockers had him going, Dawson never played a game for the Patriots. He had just one season in New England, and spent it on IR. He was traded to the Broncos ahead of the 2019 season for a sixth-round pick. The Patriots also gave up a seventh-round selection in that trade.
It takes a few years to really see if a pick is a bust or not, but so far, receiver N’Keal Harry (first round, 32nd overall) and defensive back Joejuan Williams (second round, 45th overall) aren’t off to great starts for the Patriots. The jury is still out on the two tight ends that Belichick drafted in the third round in 2020 — Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene — but the fact that New England just spent a truckload of cash on Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry seems to indicate that expectations are low for the two youngsters. And we said we were cutting things off in the fourth round, but drafting kicker Justin Rohrwasser in the fifth round last year, only to release him less than a year later because he can’t kick, is one gigantic miss.MORE NEWS: Sale Returns, Red Sox Beat Orioles 7-1
We’ll end on a high note, though. At least Kyle Dugger, a guy who barely anyone knew about during last year’s draft, looks like he can play and deliver some truly devastating hits.