There are four different avenues that produce players for NFL teams.
There is unrestricted free agency, street free agents or players that have failed with another team and college free agents.
But the biggest pipeline is the NFL Draft.
There is no question that the Super Bowl success of the New England Patriots was built on draft picks. Just about all their key performers came through selections made by Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli (left).
Not a lot is known about just how the Patriots operated in the draft room, but we know Belichick had the final say so. We also know he had a great deal of faith in Pioli and his scouts’ ability to match college players with what Belichick was looking for on his roster. There was most definitely a plan, and most definitely a template for physical characteristics and skills at certain positions.
A team that takes advantage of the draft does two things: it does not make mistakes at the top of the draft and it finds gems in the later rounds, players who make contributions despite being selected late in the process. For the most part, the Patriots did both and that allowed them to win three Super Bowls.
Here’s the list of players the Patriots drafted from 2000-2004.
Here’s the list of players the Patriots drafted from 2005-2008.
And here are some items of interest that come out of analyzing the 77 players the Patriots have selected in the 2000 through 2008 NFL Drafts:
– New England’s average pick in the first round over the last nine years was No. 20.¬†¬†There were no picks in the top five and only two in the top 10 and three in the top half of the draft.¬† Because of their success, they normally held draft positions late¬†in rounds.¬† They had just 14 picks in the top 50 and 26 in the top 100.
– The Patriots did not use picks on small college players. Of those 77 selected, 74 were from major college teams/Division 1. Two were from what used to be called Division 1-AA and they drafted just one small college player: TE Andy Stokes, who was the final player taken in the 2005 Draft out of William Penn University, a NAIA school.
– Not only did the Patriots zero in on major college talent, they looked especially hard at the major conferences. Of those 77 players, 55 were taken from schools in the Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Big 10, Pac-10 and Southeastern Conferences, along with Notre Dame. The Big 12 and SEC led the way with 12 players each.
– Belichick-Pioli hit on their No. 1 picks, as eight of the nine are still with the team. The only one missing is 2002 first-rounder Daniel Graham, who left as a free agent and signed with Denver after five seasons in New England. The remaining eight are all starters for the Patriots: RDE Richard Seymour, LDE Ty Warren, NT Vince Wilfork, TE Ben Watson, LG Logan Mankins, RB Laurence Maroney, S Brandon Meriweather and LB Jerod Mayo.
– As good as they were in the first round, New England was bad in the second round. They had eight choices in that round in nine years, and only two remain with the team: starting left tackle Matt Light and rookie cornerback Terrence Wheatley, who finished the season on the injured-reserve list after playing in seven games
– The Patriots had what could be called the greatest value pick of the decade when they grabbed quarterback Tom Brady with choice No. 199 in the sixth round of the 2000 Draft. Brady went on to become quite possibly the greatest clutch quarterback in the history of the game, leading the team to three Super Bowls.
– They may have done it again with seventh-round choice quarterback Matt Cassel, who came in and replaced the injured Brady in the ’08 season opener against the Chiefs and went on to a remarkable season for a quarterback who had not been a starter since high school.
– In nine drafts, the highest quarterback selection for the Patriots came in the ’08 Draft when they took quarterback Kevin O’Connell in the third round with the 94th pick. Only five of the other 31 teams in the league have not drafted a quarterback higher than the 94th spot: Indianapolis, New Orleans, Carolina, Tampa Bay and St. Louis. Some have taken more than one quarterback higher than No. 94.
– As good as the Patriots have been at finding quarterbacks, that’s how bad they’ve been in finding and keeping wide receivers. They’ve drafted six, including a trio of second-round picks. One of those was just two years ago, when they grabbed Florida’s Chad Jackson, but they released him at the end of the ’08 pre-season. Of the six wide receivers on the roster at the end of the ’08 season, only one came through the draft: rookie Matthew Slater. Their two starters, Randy Moss and Wes Welker, cost them second, fourth and seventh round picks.
– New England invested a lot of early draft choices along the defensive line, with three first-round picks and one second-rounder among 11 total picks. They only used three early choices along the offensive line, with one first and a pair of second-round choices.
– They selected eight tight ends in nine drafts, including a pair of first-round choices. That’s more first round tight ends than first round quarterbacks/running backs/wide receivers combined.
– Their favorite positions in the draft were linebacker and cornerback, where they’ve selected 10 players each.