Trading Down in the Draft to Move Up in the League
April 23, 2010
by Jodie Cutter
“I just know in those programs, what they ask of their players is similar to what we ask of our players.’’
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, on drafting players from college programs where he has friends on the coaching staff.
Bill Belichick shown here enjoying a laugh with his buddy, University of Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer.
Devin McCourty, Cornerback, Rutgers? I spent the entire day musing and angsting (I think that is a verb in Yiddush, I’m not sure) about the curious pick the Patriots made in the first round. Yet, in typical hoodie fashion, the Patriots went on to redeem themselves in the second and third rounds with some brilliant position picks which could, combined with the reinforcement in the secondary, make a huge impact on the defensive side, and should also give Tom Brady some juicy new targets on the offensive side.
Devin McCourty (#21) had 236 career tackles at Rutgers, and when he was on the field, quarterbacks completed just 26.58 percent of their passes. He has been called a "shutdown corner".
I admit that McCourty wasn't even on my first-round mock draft board. He had five interceptions in four years – not exactly a threatening scenario for opposing quarterbacks. Having said that, I do revere Sports Illustrated’s Peter King as an analyst, and in his mock 2010 NFL draft, he had McCourty going as the #32 pick to the New Orleans Saints. So I suppose, if he’s good enough for the Super Bowl Champions (according to Peter King), then maybe there is something special about him of which the rest of us are unaware. You can scroll down to the video at the bottom of my page to see a sample of his ability on kick returns. It's true that in college he was a standout on special teams, with seven career blocked kicks. But with the way opposing offenses carved up the secondary last year, the Patriots will need more than blocked kicks to stop the passing game.
Oklahoma State University wide receiver Dez Bryant was widely touted as a likely first round choice for the Patriots. Speculation is that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has been waiting 11 years to vindicate himself after not drafting Randy Moss because of concerns about character issues. Bryant, who will go from being a Cowboy to being a Cowboy, comes with his own set of baggage, yet that didn't stop Dallas from drafting him at #24, two picks below where the Patriots would have picked in the first round had they not traded down.
Beyond the first round, the Patriots sought to fill the more obvious needs – tight end, pass rusher, linebacker (albeit inside, not outside), and wide receiver. That is not to say that they don’t need a cornerback, it’s just that this is the fifth rookie defensive back they’ve taken in the past three drafts, and they could have taken one in a later round. The Patriots already have six cornerbacks and a total of eleven defensive backs on the roster. It’s not as if any of them have replaced Ty Law, Assante Samuel, or Rodney Harrison, nor are any of them the next Champ Bailey or Darrelle Revis. But it seems if they needed a star wide receiver (Dez Bryant, anyone?), he was theirs for the taking before they began trading down.
Beginning in the second round, the Patriots got really smart. How? Two of their three second round picks are from the glorious great Gator nation of the University of Florida, an SEC powerhouse who has produced multiple star NFL players. In fact, Emmitt Smith was my fellow student and contemporary – now I’m really dating myself. But anyway, I am still a passionate Gator fan, and I admit that prior to yesterday, I was running around telling anyone who would listen that the Patriots should draft Tim Tebow. Turns out I must have been drinking the same Kool-Aid as Josh McDaniels. Yes, Tebow’s character is pristine; yes, he’s overloaded with intangibles (click here to be impressed) ; yes, he’s an incredible athlete who can probably play any position (click here to be more impressed). But which position will he play? Is it true that he’ll never be suited to play quarterback in the NFL? Maybe so. The Patriots could have had him if they wanted him, but by then they had traded down. It’s pretty clear that Belichick took him to dinner in the North End to mess with the other teams' heads, although maybe he truly just wanted to get inside Tebow's head before he became off limits as a dinner date.
The Denver Broncos drafted University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow with the #25 pick in the draft, citing character and athleticism. They already have a starting quarterback, Kyle Orton, and they just acquired quarterback Brady Quinn from the Cleveland Browns, so the role Tebow will play in Denver remains unclear.
Bill Belichick and University of Florida coach Urban Meyer are said to be good buddies, as are Belichick and Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano. As the Boston Globe’s Bert Breer reported, Belichick likes to draft from programs with which he is familiar. “I just know in those programs, what they ask of their players is similar to what we ask of our players,’’ Belichick said. “Not the same, but I’d say it’s similar. And so to know how a player handles situations in their programs, similar to ours, is part of the evaluation of that player.’’ The fact that Urban Meyer's program produced seven picks in the first three rounds of this year's draft - more than any other school - also doesn't hurt.
One of my favorite sports writers is a dot-com writer, Pete Prisco of CBS Sports.com. I always enjoy his perspective. He wrote a scathing column today giving a grade of “F” to the Broncos for taking Tim Tebow, and predicting the demise of Josh McDaniel’s career as a head coach. He also graded all of the draft picks, and had this to say about the Patriots’ five picks so far:
No. 27: Patriots select: Devin McCourty, CB, Rutgers. Analysis: The Patriots traded down and still got a quality corner. They keep getting younger in the secondary, which they needed to do. He will join Darius Butler as two young corners. GRADE: B
No. 42: Patriots select: Rob Gronkowski, TE, Arizona. Analysis: This is the best pick of the round. Typical Patriots. They get a great player who has some back issues, but he is a heck of a player. I thought they might take him in the first round. Wow. GRADE: A+
No. 53: Patriots select: Jermaine Cunningham, DE, Florida. Analysis: The Patriots are looking to amp up their pass rush and Cunningham can do that. He will move to outside linebacker. He had some injury issues, but he has speed off the edge. GRADE: B+
No. 62: Patriots select: Brandon Spikes, ILB, Florida. Analysis: Of all the Patriots pick, this one is the one I like the least. I just don't think he runs well enough. At least in their 3-4 scheme, they can cover him up some. GRADE: C+
No. 90: Patriots select: Taylor Price, WR, Ohio. Analysis: This was a player who really zoomed up boards in recent weeks. He is a fast player who has good size at 6-foot, 200 pounds. This is a future move for when Randy Moss goes. GRADE: B+
Say what you want about Belichick, but he is a master at working the draft on draft day. The Patriots worked the trade system in this draft more aggressively than any other team, trading down four times and up once. The machinations left them with 12 total picks in the draft, and two picks in the first two rounds next year.
As for picking players, that still remains to be seen. Patriots Pro Football Weekly analyzed the percentage of Patriots draft picks who remain on the roster. From 2004 to 2008, only 31 percent of players drafted by the Patriots remain on the roster. That number ranks last in the league. From 2007 to 2008, only 37.5 percent of players remain on the roster. And from the past five drafts? Only 60 percent of players chosen by the Patriots in the first three rounds remain on the roster. However, preliminary analysis of the picks in the first three rounds this year would suggest that the Patriots will outdo those statistics in the 2010 draft. This the first time ever that the first round was held on a separate day from the second round, so people had a lot more time to scratch their heads about Devin McCourty. Looking at the first five picks as a collection rather than dwelling on who they took in the first round gives a much clearer picture of what the Patriots are trying to do. For those people, including me, who asked after Round One, "Do they know what they're doing?', I would say that after looking at Rounds Two and Three, they know exactly what they're doing.
Draft Board from patriots.com. Each player is clickable for a bio.
||Player / How Acq.
||Devin McCourty, CB, Rutgers
||Rob Gronkowski, TE, Arizona
||Jermaine Cunningham, DL, Florida
||Brandon Spikes, LB, Florida
||Taylor Price, WR, Ohio
||Aaron Hernandez, TE, Florida
||Zoltan Mesko, P, Michigan
||Ted Larsen, OL, NC State
||Thomas Welch, OL, Vanderbilt
||Brandon Deadrick, DE, Alabama
||Kade Weston, DL, Georgia
||Zac Robinson, QB, Oklahoma State
Finally, after the draft was over, the Patriots signed six undrafted free agents, including North Dakota State running back Pat Paschall. (also signed were DE Dane Fletcher, Montana St.; S Sergio Brown, Notre Dame; S Ross Ventrone, Villanova; WR Bryan Anderson, Central Michigan; and DL Kyle Love, Mississippi St.)