When you spend time on NFL websites – whether they’re Twitter, Facebook or Pats Pulpit – you may come across a particular statement with relative regularity: the New England Patriots led by the head coach / General Manager Bill Belichick is not that good at writing. Although the club has won six Super Bowls since Belichick’s arrival in 2000, its ability to select high-impact college players is considered a weakness by some.
Now, before delving a little deeper into the matter, it must be said that it is difficult to quantify the success of a draft. There are obvious successes such as quarterback Tom Brady’s selection with the 199th overall selection in Belichick’s first draft with the Patriots, as well as easy to find identification – take defensive forward Dominique Easley, who was drafted 29th overall in 2014 but released after only two injury-ridden seasons – missing.
However, many player selections fall into a gray area that is not so easy to dissect. Take Cameron Fleming, for example, who was drafted 111 caps after Easley in the fourth round of the 2014 draft. Although he never created a regular starting role along the New England offensive line and qu ‘he left as an unrestricted free agent after four seasons, has always appeared in 56 games with 22 starts for the team and has provided value as a backup swing tackle.
It is difficult to judge players like Fleming on a success scale, since most results are shaped by personal preferences and opinions. A useful way to examine his case and that of all other draft choices is therefore to refer to statistics such as the approximate value (AV) created by the founder of Pro Football Reference, Doug Drinen. In essence, AV compares players based on their contributions to a team from a digital perspective – be it games, stats or individual awards.
The approximate value “is not meant to be a global metric”, as Drinen himself explained in an explanatory blog on creating the metric, but it provides a framework in which to assess the players – and in our case , the draft classes. So using it to assess which teams have written the best or the worst against expectations, we can see that Belichick and the Patriots are among the best in football between 2000 and 2016:
The methodology on which this graph is based is quite simple. First, an overview of the approximate expected value per year for each of the draft selection slots is taken. These figures are then compared to the actual VA per year earned by the selections made. The difference between the two numbers indicates whether a team drafted above or below their expectations for the draft in which they ultimately ended up choosing.
As can be seen, the Patriots have written above the approximate value expected in 10 of the 17 years in the period 2000 to 2016 – and the last five consecutive years in that period – for a combined average 27.4 AV above expectations (AVaE). This puts the Belichick team in fourth place in the draft best success behind only the Indianapolis Colts (37.4 AVaE), Green Bay Packers (35.0 AVaE) and Seattle Seahawks (28.3 AVaE ).
A closer look at the graph shows that New England was particularly successful in three of its projects: 2005, 2015 and 2016, all of which resulted in an AVaE score of 10 and above. The reason is quickly found by looking at the players selected in each of the three years:
2005: OG Logan Mankins (1-32), CB Ellis Hobbs (3-84), OT Nick Kaczur (3-100), FS James Sanders (4-133), LB Ryan Claridge (5-170), QB Matt Cassel (7 -230), TE Andy Stokes (7-255)
2015: DT Malcom Brown (1-32), SS Jordan Richards (2-64), DE Geneo Grissom (3-97), DE Trey Flowers (4-101), OG Tre ‘Jackson (4-111), OG Shaq Mason ( 4-131), Matt 1 Joe Cardona (5-166), LB Matthew Wells (6-178), TE AJ Derby (6-202), CB Darryl Roberts (7-247), LB Xzavier Dickson (7-253)
2016: CB Cyrus Jones (2-60), OG Joe Thuney (3-78), QB Jacoby Brissett (3-91), DT Vincent Valentine (3-96), WR Malcolm Mitchell (4-112), LB Kamu Grugier-Hill (6-208), LB Elandon Roberts (6-214), OG Ted Karras (6-221), WR Devin Lucien (7-225)
As we can see, the three years brought patriarchs or at least basic contributors to the Patriots. From first round Logan Mankins and Malcom Brown, both of whom played solid football during their time in New England (Mankins was recently named to the 2010 NFL team), to mid-round selections such than James Sanders, Trey Flowers and Shaq Mason, to end-of-round picks like Elandon Roberts and Ted Karras.
Of course, the Patriots have also experienced failures in those three years – former second-round coach Cyrus Jones stands out – but they have generally done a good job adding talent to the team. The same goes for other projects in general: New England experienced ups and downs and experienced a difficult period between 2006 and 2009, when its average AVaE was -6.18, but most often, she couldn’t feel good about the results. .
For the sake of completeness, it should also be noted that players who are still on their rookie offers do not yet take the equation into account. However, the Patriots still found a talent between 2017 and 2019 that could be considered a successful choice at that time and in relation to where they were selected. Of course, the coming seasons will ultimately decide how these three classes of drafts will be reviewed in the future.
The Patriots aren’t perfect at writing, that’s obvious. That said, they are better than a lot of people giving them credit and have built their success over the past two decades largely because of their ability to find usable players through the draft. Add the fact that they are as good as any organization in identifying talent in the free agency and trade markets, and in terms of managing the salary cap, and you get the pillars of that which is the most successful in modern NFL history.