Criticizing Belichick (4/30/12)

By Paul Bessire

Monday, April 30 at 9:00 PM ET

Patrick Chung (S, Second Round, 2009), Ron Brace (DT, Second Round, 2009), Darius Butler (CB, Second Round, 2009), Tyrone McKenzie (LB, Third Round, 2009), Myron Pryor (DT, Sixth Round, 2009), Darryl Richard (DT, Seventh Round, 2009) Devin McCourty (CB, First Round, 2010), Jermaine Cunningham (DE, Second Round, 2010), Brandon Spikes (LB, Second Round, 2010), Brandon Deaderick (DE, Seventh Round, 2010), Ras-I Dowling (CB, Second Round 2011), Markell Carter (DE, Sixth Round, 2011), Malcolm Williams (CB, Seventh Round, 2011)…

Despite being drafted by a team with significant concerns on defense, those 13 players have played in a combined 234 games (of 464 possible), starting 111 times (of 464 possible) and tallying just ten sacks, 18 interceptions and 496 tackles over their collective careers. San Francisco’s Patrick Willis has 377 tackles, 12 sacks and four interceptions by himself over the past three seasons. Five of the thirteen, including 2009 second round pick Darius Butler, are no longer even with their original team.

The players above are the defensive players selected by the New England Patriots since Vice President of Player Personnel Scott Pioli left to become the General Manager for the Kansas City Chiefs. The Patriots are 37-9 in that span and the team has found some strong offensive contributors in the draft, like tight ends Rob Gronkowski (Second Round, 2010) and Aaron Hernandez (Fourth Round, 2010), who both had major injury concerns leading into the draft that have since come up in two seasons in the NFL, but I do not think it is fair to assume, given what we have seen from the defense in general and from the players drafted on that side of the ball over the last three years, that the team is making the right decisions to help its team. While, according to our post draft analysis and projections, Scott Pioli has engineered tremendous draft classes for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2010 (#2) and 2011 (#9) – and, even with what we think is an atrocious mistake with this year’s top overall pick, the rest of the 2012 class looks incredibly strong – Bill Belichick’s efforts have placed the Patriots #18 and #21 and it has started to show on the field.

I'll be the one to note it...

The New England Patriots 2012 Draft Class is one of the five worst draft classes in the NFL.

It’s okay to say that.

New England traded their two first round picks, a third and a fourth round pick to move up and select an injury-prone, slow off the line, defensive end who never tallied more than 4.5 sacks in a season and ranked eighth on my DE Rankings (Chandler Jones, elevated in an inexplicable late surge that I'm personally convinced had as much to do with his brothers' success and marketability as his own abilities) and a (too) big, slow and unproductive (relative to his team, competition and draft position) inside linebacker who ranked sixth (out of just 14) in my ILB Rankings. They proceeded to take my seventh best safety (when #2 was still available), my ninth best DE (when #4 was available), my 29th best safety (when #6 was available) and my 25th best cornerback (when #9 was available).

The Patriots do not appear as weak as the pick depleted New Orleans Saints or Oakland Raiders, but they are squarely in the discussion for the next worst draft (the exact order will be unveiled on Wednesday in an article ranking all players and teams by rookie impact... the top five will likely include Indianapolis. Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Green Bay and Minnesota).

Yet no comments I made via Twitter or on-air after the draft were met with more scrutiny or criticism than when I questioned the team’s thinking and commented about the team’s ranking in the draft. I understand that Bill Belichick has overseen a team that has consistently won in New England, but that does not mean he can be without flaws (we know for a fact that the guy is not perfect) or that members of the media cannot publicly criticize the team. Not one person I have heard or read has said anything negatively about the Patriots’ draft – only getting as close as to say, “it’s the Patriots, they must know what they are doing” (based on what we have seen above, how can this be justifiable) or, “they needed defensive help, so they targeted defense” (the position to target is irrelevant if the wrong players are selected). With New England’s needs and defensive deficiencies, I still would have rather drafted David DeCastro, Kevin Zeitler, Riley Reiff, Jonathan Martin (or the next rated WR, B.J. Cunningham – a steal in the sixth round – or RB, Chris Polk – who went undrafted – or just about any other offensive player available), than the worst draft eligible starting defensive player on the worst defense in the country. Simply drafting defensive players and having won multiple Super Bowls does not make this draft a win for New England and Bill Belichick.

It’s merely a theory of mine because I have not seen behind the curtain, but I am concerned that, with Pioli (and former Director of College Scouting, Thomas Dimitroff) gone and his reputation and ego in the way, Belichick may have too many “yes” men working for him now – that, or no one is around who can evaluate talent as well as Pioli.

Objectively, which is not only the methodology that provides the basis for my rankings above, that should be the goal with any analysis and reporting, it is impossible to look at this NFL Draft class for the New England Patriots and project success.

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