With the 2014 NFL draft finally almost ready to commence, here is a look at the best and worst draft picks in Patriots’ franchise history. Since the whole draft exercise has changed so drastically over the years – let’s face it, the amount of preparation for the draft by professional football teams fifty years ago was nothing at all like it is now – I’ll look at the best and worst by decades.
Any list such as this one is by going to be subjective, but as a point of reference, a couple of aspects that I did consider while compiling this ranking. When a player was drafted is a major factor for both the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ groups. For example there may be cases where a late round pick like David Givens would be considered to be a better draft pick than Deion Branch because of their draft positions, even though the latter had a better career. Secondly, unforeseen injuries are taken into consideration; in some case they may keep a player completely off a list (e.g., Robert Edwards) while in other cases they may drop a player in the bust category (e.g., Andy Katzenmoyer).
Best draft picks from 1960-69
1. LB Nick Buoniconti (13.102, ’62)
Slipped way down in the draft because he was considered to be undersized, he went on to a Hall of Fame career and played in five AFL All-Star games as a Patriot.
2. RB Jim Nance (19.151, ’65)
Big Bo still hold the franchise record for rushing touchdowns; he was the AFL’s MVP in ’66 and twice led the league in rushing.
3. RT Tom Neville (7.55, ’65)
One of a select few Patriots to be named to two all-decade teams and played in 160 games for the patriots from 1965-77.
4. DE Larry Eisenhauer (6.42, ’61)
Four-time All-AFL and three time Pro Bowler was a nine-year starter for the Pats.
5. C Jon Morris (4.29, ’64)
Seven-time all-star played in 130 games and was named to the team’s Hall of Fame in 2011.
– On the bubble: RG Len St. Jean (9.68, ’64); CB/S Don Webb (24.186, ’61); LG Charley Long (8.58, ’61); TE Jim Whalen (3.23, ’65); Carl Garrett (3.58, ’69)
Worst draft picks from 1960-69
1. OT Karl Singer (1.3, ’66)
Consider this: in the same year that Singer was drafted third overall in the AFL, he was not drafted in the NFL until the 19th round. The Purdue Boilermaker started just one game before being released after three seasons.
2. DE Dennis Byrd (1.6, ’68)
Byrd was an excellent college player at North Carolina State, but he injured his knee his senior year and was never the same. Modern medicine is far more advanced now than it was then; that injury should have been a huge red flag to avoid selecting him so early. Problem was the Patriots hadn’t even read the Carolina papers; they didn’t have a clue about the injury. When Mike Holovak gathered the media around a speakerphone to call Byrd after he was selected, he asked the person who answered if they knew how to reach Byrd. The response elicited a few dropped jaws: “The hospital; he’s just had a knee operation.”
3. The entire 1966 draft
As big as a draft bust as Singer was, that choice was just the tip of the iceberg, exacerbated by a mind-boggling array of horrible selections. Jim Boudreaux (2.10) appeared in just 12 games over three seasons. DT Harold Lucas (3.19) signed with the Cardinals but deserved to be part of the early Pats folklore: he left $300,000 on the table when he walked out of summer camp and quit, upset about having to drop 20+ pounds to reach a team-mandated 280 pound weight limit. DT John Mangum (5.35) started five games in his two-year pro career, the 4th round pick was traded to the Jets, OT Dan Irby (6.43) never played a down, and Jim Battle (7.52) signed with the Browns. The Patriots selected ten of the first 102 players in that draft, and half of them never played a down in either the NFL or AFL. Of the 18 players drafted by the Patriots (the last being just 174th overall), twelve never played in either of the two leagues, only four ever played with the Patriots, and the most productive of those four was Doug Satcher, who was the starter for just one season with the Pats. The only positive was the trade of their 4th round pick to the Jets, for which they received WR Jim Colclough and two other players.
4. Sherwyn Thorson (3.22, ’62)
I’ll give the club a pass for their first couple of drafts, but by the third time around they should have figured it out a little bit. Thorson had no interest in the AFL because he could make more playing for Winnipeg in the CFL. How about a phone call, or even a letter to see if the guy you re selecting with the 22nd pick is interested? That oversight leads us to…
5. RB Tommy Mason (1.2, ’61), and others
Mason, who later married Olympic gymnast and actress Cathy Rigby, had a decent career – with the Vikings. If you have the second overall pick, shouldn’t you use it on a player you think will sign with you, rather than with the rival NFL? Similarly the Pats wasted draft picks in their formative years on WR Gary Collins (1.6, ’62), DT Jerry Rush (1.7, ’65), LB Lee Roy Jordan (2.14, ’63), LT Bob Vogel (3.23, ’63) and QB Fran Tarkenton (5.34, ’61).
Best draft picks from 1970-79
1. NT Ray Hamilton (14.342, ’73)
Played 132 games for some very good Pats teams; pretty good value for a 14th round pick.
2. G John Hannah (1.4, ’73)
Considered to be one of the best, if not the best to ever play his position in pro football history.
3. QB Steve Grogan (5.116, ’75)
When he retired Grogan held nearly every franchise passing record, and ranked in the top-25 in most NFL career statistical categories. Far exceeded expectations of a 5th-round draft pick.
4. CB Mike Haynes (1.5, ’76)
NFL Hall of Famer went to six pro Bowls as a Patriot.
5. LB Steve Nelson (2.34, ’74)
Heart and soul of the Patriots defense for 14 years.
– On the bubble: Julius Adams (2.27, ’71); Sam Cunningham (1.11, ’73); Russ Francis (1.16, ’75); Pete Brock (1.12, ’76); Tim Fox (1.21, ’76); Raymond Clayborn (1.16, ’77); Stanley Morgan (1.25, ’77);
Worst draft picks from 1970-79
1. DT Phil Olsen (1.4, ’70)
Just because your brother was a good football player, that is no reason to be drafted this early.
2. LB Mike Ballou (3.56, ’70)
Lasted just one season in the NFL.
3. WR Tom Reynolds (2.49, ’72)
Played for just one season with the Pats, catching 8 passes for 152 yards.
4. G Steve Corbett (2.30, ’74)
The BC grad was out of the NFL after one season with the Patriots.
5. P Eddie Hare (4.106, ’79)
Why draft a punter in the 4th round? Hare averaged 36.6 yards per punt his rookie season, and was out of the NFL the following year.
– On the bubble: RB Charles Davis (3.73, ’73); NT Peter Cusick (3.66, ’75); DE Jim White (3.73, ’72); CB Sidney Brown (3.82, ’77); WR Carlos Pennywell (3.77, ’78)
Best draft picks from 1980-89
1. LB Andre Tippett (2.41, ’82)
NFL Hall of Famer had 100 career sacks and went to five consecutive Pro Bowls.
2. LT Bruce Armstrong (1.23, ’87)
Appeared in six Pro Bowls; at the time only John Hannah had appeared in more as a Patriot.
3. FS Fred Marion (5.112, ’82)
A lot of value here: the 5th-round draft pick started for eight years and finished his career with 29 interceptions.
4. ILB Vincent Brown (2.43, ’88)
Played 123 games for the Pats, with 16.5 sacks and ten interceptions.
5. CB Ronnie Lippett (8.214, ’83)
Another great value pick (214th overall), Lippett had 24 interceptions during his eight years with the Pats.
– On the bubble: OLB Don Blackmon (4.102, ’81), ILB Larry McGrew (2.45, ’80), RB Tony Collins (2.47, ’81), SS Roland James (1.14, ’80), DE Brent Williams (7.192, ’86), ILB Johnny Rembert (4.101, ’83)
Worst draft picks from 1980-89
1. DT Ken Sims (1.1, ’82)
“Game Day” wasn’t quite as horrible as some make him out to be, but he never came close to living up to the hype and expectations of a player selected first overall in an NFL draft.
2. C Trevor Matich (1.28, ’85)
Matich had a 12-year NFL career – as a long snapper. Not exactly what you’re looking for from a first round pick.
3. WR Hart Lee Dykes (1.16, ’89)
“Heartless” Dykes was a lot of talk and no action; he was never the same after a fractured kneecap, and then a barroom brawl with Irving Fryar that resulted in an eye injury.
4. RB Vagas Ferguson (1.25, ’80)
After a promising rookie season (818 yards), Ferguson lost playing time to rookie Tony Collins the next season and was out of the NFL at the age of 26.
5. RB Reggie Dupard (1.26, ’86)
Reggie “One Yard” Dupard somehow managed to have a five-year career in the NFL, despite averaging just 3.2 yards per carry.
– On the bubble: NT Lester Williams (2.27, ’82); RB Robert Weathers (2.40, ’82); RT Daryl Haley (2.55, ’82); Tony Eason (1.15, ’83); WR Darryal Wilson (2.47, ’83); LB Ed Williams (2.43, ’84); NT Mike Ruth (2.42, ’86); QB Rich Gannon (4.98, ’87); CB Eric Coleman (2.43, ’89), K Teddy Garcia (4.100, ’88)
Best draft picks from 1990-99
1. RB Curtis Martin (3.74, ’95)
I place Martin this high because of the value (3rd round pick), and because his departure to the Jets is not the fault of the scouting department. Nobody in the history of the Pats comes close to his average of 84.4 rushing yards per game, and despite his short time in Foxborough he still ranks 4th all-time on the club in career rushing yards.
2. CB Ty Law (1.23, ’95)
The future Hall of Famer is tied with Raymond Clayborn on the franchise leader board with 36 interceptions, and is perhaps most remembered for 47-yard pick-six off Kurt Warner in Super Bowl 36.
3. S Lawyer Milloy (2.36, ’96)
Four Pro Bowls, 19 interceptions, and a pair of Super Bowl rings with the Pats.
4. LB Tedy Brushi (3.86, ’96)
Heart and soul of the Patriot championship defenses needs no introduction.
5. QB Drew Bledsoe (1.1, ’93)
While the others above outperformed their draft status in comparison to Bledsoe, let’s not forget that the pats could have easily ended up with Rick Mirer rather than Drew.
– On the bubble: TE Ben Coates (5.124, ’91); WR Troy Brown (8.198, ’93); RB Kevin Faulk (2.46, ’99); DE Willie McGinest (1.4, ’94); Ted Johnson (2.57, ’95); LB Chris Slade (2.31, ’93)
Worst draft picks from 1990-99
1. G Eugene Chung (1.13, ’92)
You know it’s bad when Bob Kratch replaces you in the starting lineup. While Chubg wasn’t horrible – he did start for two years – he was certainly a disappointment considering he was the 13th player drafted overall.
2. CB Chris Canty (1.29, ’97)
Canty lasted just two seasons with the Patriots, mostly returning punts and kickoffs. He was the epitome of a player who over-celebrated the most minute of triumphs, which did not exactly endear him with fans expecting much more from a first round draft pick.
3. ILB Andy Katzenmoyer (1.28, ’99)
Some would rank The Big Kat higher on a list of draft busts, but much if not all for his lack of productivity was due to a neck injury that occurred after a helmet to helmet hit with Buffalo fullback Sam Gash that led to two surgeries and his short career. The negativity towards Katz is due in equal parts to the hype (he was the first true freshman to start at Ohio State and won the Butkus Award as a sophomore), the negative publicity before being drafted (SI wrote a two-part story on the ‘dumb jock’, focusing on Katzenmoyer as their example), and the sudden retirement (he walked out and quit the NFL during his third training camp).
4. WR Kevin Lee (2.35, ’94)
Lee started two ganes in two seasons with the Pats, finishing his NFL career with eight receptions for 107 yards and no touchdowns. The very next player drafted was offensive lineman Kevin Mawae, who went on to play 241 games and was named to eight Pro Bowls.
5. DT Christian Peter (5.149, ’96)
Why draft a guy if you’re going to cut him a week later? Either somebody failed to do their homework, or communicate with the owner; either way, this was the ultimate wasted draft pick even if releasing him was the right thing to do.
– On the bubble: K Scott Sisson (5.113, ’93); DT Ervin Collier (3.78, ’94); C Joe Burch (3.90, ’94); WR Tony Simmons (2.52, ’98); QB Tommy Hodson (3.59, ’90); G Calvin Stephens (3.56, ’91); RB Chris Floyd (3.81, ’98)
Best draft picks from 2000-09
1. QB Tom Brady (6.199, ’00)
Has any NFL team ever reaped more value from a player drafted this late?
2. LT Matt Light (2.48, ’01)
Protected Tom Brady’s blind side from 2001-11, starting 153 games and being named to three Pro Bowls.
3. NT Vince Wilfork (1.21, ’04)
Five time Pro Bowler consistently commands double teams but still collapses the pocket.
4. DE Richard Seymour (1.6, ’01)
Three times named a first team All-Pro, and five time Pro Bowler in eight years with the Patriots; the defense has never been the same since he was traded away.
5. LG Logan Mankins (1.32, ’05)
Six-time Pro Bowler has started 130 games for the Pats.
– On the bubble: WR David Givens (7.253, ’02); C Dan Koppen (5.164, ’03); CB Asante Samuel (4.120, ’03); RT Sebastian Vollmer (2.58, ’09); LB Jerod Mayo (1.10, ’08); WR Deion Branch (2.65, ’02)
Worst draft picks from 2000-09
1. DT Ron Brace (2.40, ’09)
It seemed like a reach at the time – and it was. Brace missed 25 games during his four years with the Pats, and in the final two seasons registered just three tackles and five assists.
2. QB Kevin O’Connell (3.94, ’08)
At the time I did not understand drafting a quarterback so early when Brady had plenty of time left as the starter at an elite level, and I understand that decision even less today.
3. LB Shawn Crable (3.78, ’08)
IR, IR, see ya’ later. Didn’t anybody notice those tiny chicken legs of his and wonder if he had any leg strength?
4. WR Chad Jackson (2.36, ’06)
I give Jackson a bit of a pass on lists of draft busts. Although it is often cited that Greg Jennings was the next WR selected, nobody considered Jennings to be the better prospect at the time, and in addition much of Jackson’s lack of production was due to an unforeseen knee injury. Still, the fact remains that the Pats moved up 16 slots to get Jackson, and it is difficult to not consider Jennings’ career when discussing Jackson.
5. QB Rohan Davey (4.117, ’02)
You just won the Super Bowl with Tom Brady; why draft a quarterback so early? The Pats chose Davey over linebackers Larry Foote, Andra Davis and Scott Fujita, all of whom were selected shortly afterwards.
– On the bubble: CB Brock Williams (3.86, ’01); S Guss Scott (3.95, ’04); G Adrian Klemm (2.46, ’00); FB Garrett Mills (4.106, ’06); CB Terrence Wheatley (2.62, ’08); Darius Butler (2.41, ’09)
Best of all-time:
1. Tom Brady
2. Andre Tippett
3. Ray Hamilton
4. John Hannah
5. Nick Buoniconti
Worst of all-time:
1. Karl Singer
2. Eugene Chung
3. Ken Sims
4. Chris Canty
5. Trevor Matich
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