Sunday, August 14, 2011

Success Of Belichick Draft Picks Since Last Championship.

(c) John W. McDonough/SI

Since The Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVIII, they've been forced to undergo serious changes to their makeup. Obviously in 7 years every team changes, but New England's top players have left because of retirement, more money elsewhere, or even because their roles were filled by younger players who could flat out do the job better. The Patriot's coaching staff has been ripped apart almost every offseason, only to open the doors for new coordinators, assistant coaches, and GM's. Despite the lack of Super Bowl wins New England has continued to be one of the NFL's most successful teams, and despite that success they've also failed to live up to fan's lofty expectations. In Foxborough Massachusetts there's a fine line between success and failure.

For a period of time Fans were beginning to question the Evil Genius that is Bill Belichick. With 1st rounders like Ben Watson and Lawrence Maroney falling short of expectations, fans were starting to grow impatient.

But more recently Bill has been spot on with his drafting, and if you look close he really wasn't as far off as everyone would have you believe. For every 1st Rounder who's star never shined, there's been late rounders and undrafted guys who fill huge roles on this football team. You say Chad Jackson and I say Julien Edelman. You say Marquise Hill and I'll respond with Matt Cassell.

Let's take a look at Belichick's "Post-Dynasty" Draft resume:

All-Pro's (3)-
Logan Mankins
Jerod Mayo
Stephen Gostkowski

Pro-Bowlers (6)-
Logan Mankins
Vince Wilfork
Brandon Meriweather
Jerod Mayo
Stephen Gostkowski
Devin McCourty
Matt Cassel (Made Pro-Bowl as Kansas City Chief)

Players With At Least 1 Season as Primary Starter At Their Position (21)-
Logan Mankins (6)
Vince Wilfork (6)
Nick Kaczur (5)
Ben Watson (4)
Stephen Gostkowski (4)
Ellis Hobbs (4)
Jerod Mayo (3)
Brandon Meriweather (3)
James Sanders (2)
Matt Cassel (1)
David Thomas (1)
Devin McCourty (1)
Rob Gronkowski (1)
Jermaine Cunningham (1)
Brandon Spikes (1)
Patrick Chung (1)
Ron Brace (1)
Sebastian Vollmer (1)
Brandon Tate (1)
Ryan O'Callaghan (1)

Take a look at that last column, that's what I find most impressive. 21 guys have spent atleast one season as The Starting ________ for the New England Patriots. A lot of these names have only spent one season as the primary starters, you may say "what kind of value is that?" Well, out of those 11 players, 6 of them are slated as 2011 starters for the Pats, two of them are primary starters for other teams (Cassel and Thomas), and two of them are backups who filled in for a starter who missed significant time due to injury.

But Belichick's success in the draft reaches even further, where's he's really great is in the signing of Undrafted Free Agents. Both Gary Guyton and Kyle Arrington went from undrafted to primary starters. Brian Hoyer has been Tom Brady's backup QB since Matt Cassel was traded, and he is beginning to look like a guy who could start elsewhere if opportunity knocks. Dane Fletcher was a college DE who is pretty far in the process of converting to Inside Linebacker ALA Tedy Bruschi. There isn't a coach in the league who get's more value out of undrafted free agents.

Then we get into the Draft Day Trades. New England seems to go into every draft with an assortment of picks. Bill moves acquires picks while waiting for the right moment to get "his guys", then can use those extra picks to make moves for Veterans. Randy Moss for a 4th. Wes Welker for a 2nd and a 7th. Chad Ochocinco for a 5th and a 6th. Albert Haynesworth for a 5th in 2013... you get the idea.

Last years 14-2 squad had rookies starting all over the place. No longer are the days of Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson, instead New England has All-Pro Jerod Mayo and Rookie Standout Brandon Spikes. Ty Law has given way to Devin McCourty. Once upon a tim Bill Belichick acquired Mike Vrabel, a throwaway from the Steelers, now he's got Rob Ninkovich. The tight end combo of Graham and Fauria has evolved to Gronkowski and Hernandez. These guys have yet to be at the caliber of their predecessors, but they aren't as far as you think.

Bill Belichick has rebuilt this team on the fly, and some of you blinked and missed it. This team is right there at the top again, even though they never really even left.

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