Patriots Struggles Tied to Bad Drafting

The Patriots are off to their worst start in nearly 20 years. Since starting the season 2-1, they have lost three games in a row and their effort in the last two games was particularly lackluster. To be fair this isn't a normal season, COVID-19 has affected just about everything in the world and football is no exception... and some of the Patriots struggles can be blamed on the pandemic:

  • They had a league high eight players opt not to play this year. This included their best linebacker (Dont'a Hightower), stalwart strong safety (Patrick Chung) and three other likely starters (Marcus Canon, Matt Lacosse and Dan Vitale).
  • Starting quarterback Cam Newton and shutdown cornerback Stephon Gilmore both tested positive for COVID-19 and missed the fourth game of the season (against Kansas City) and the following week of practice.
  • Additional positive tests on the roster resulted in their schedule being re-jiggered and the team having to cancel about a week's worth practice time.
While all of the above are valid factors, the underlying reason for their struggles is not pandemic related - the Patriots are struggling because they lack talented young players. From 2014-2019 the Patriots relied on their veteran players - and they delivered four Super Bowl appearances and three titles. That success, however, masked the fact that the organization did a wretched job of drafting and developing players during that same time period. Here's a recap of their drafts from 2015-2019:

Year Players Drafted Players Still on the Team Analysis
2015 10 2 Despite only two players still being on the team (Shaq Mason and Joe Cordona), this was one of their better recent drafts given that they also selected 4-year contributor Tre Flowers.
2016 6 1 Having only one of six still on the team isn't good... at least the one (Joe Thuney) is a pretty good player.
2017 4 2 The two remaining players (Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise Jr.) aren't exactly all-stars. This one was a complete dud.
2018 7 3 They got a couple contributors, but overall another disappointing draft considering that they had two first round picks.
2019 7 7 While it's good that all seven players are still on the team, no one from the group has made a significant impact. To make matters worse they selected wide receiver N'Keal Harry with their first pick - he's starting to look like a bust while several other receivers drafted after him are emerging stars.

I'm not the first to note that the Patriots have had awful recent drafts. The Boston Herald noted that the Patriots haven't drafted a Pro Bowl player in over six years. NBC Sports Boston ranked the Five worst drafts of the Bill Belichick era (basically the last 20 years). Three of the five were 2015, 2016, and 2017. Additionally the 2017 draft was ranked as the absolute worst of the era.

     The Disappointing Patriots 2017 Draft Class. Photo Source: Boston Globe

So where do they go from here? Some members of the media and fans huddled around virtual water coolers are suggesting that the Patriots should tank (intentionally lose games to improve their position in the 2021 draft). Tanking can work in a sport like basketball (where there are only 5 players on the court), but it rarely works in football. Instead, I would do the following:
  1. Keep trying to win games - don't let apathy set in.
  2. If the current starters don't produce sit them down and let the reserve players have a turn. If the reserve players don't produce then bring in the practice squad. If the practice squad players don't produce bring in guys off the street (I'm available for the right price). Leave no stone unturned.
  3. Develop a new drafting strategy. Radio personalities Felger and Mazz determine which players they want to select by throwing darts at a magazine - maybe try that. Another idea is the George Costanza opposite approach - draft players they don't like and stay away from players that they rate highly. Crazy and far-fetched? Absolutely. Better than what they are currently doing? Possibly.