Bill Belichick's WR Draft History Is Mostly Cringe-Worthy

Photo: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Belichick has been lauded as one of the more brilliant football minds in the history of the NFL. His coaching pedigree can’t be denied; however, Belichick as a general manager is a more nuanced being. His drafting history, albeit a few late-round gems, has been precarious, to say the least. When looking at the wide receivers that Belichick has selected over the course of his tenure as general manager, that prestigious reputation takes even more of a hit.

I looked back into every wide receiver that Belichick has selected since he took complete and utter control of personnel decisions in 2009 and graded each pick. The grading criteria had a lot to do with the draft position and what was still available on the board at the time. Additionally, injuries and future impact were accounted for during the grading process.

2009 Draft:

Context: Tom Brady suffered a torn ACL injury in Week 1 against the Kansas City  Chiefs, which put a damper on much of the 2008 season. The Patriots continued on to win 11 games, barely missing the playoffs. They came into the 2009 season with Randy Moss and Wes Welker as their starting wide receivers. New England was coming into the season stacked in the wide receiver department but with tough contract decisions looming.

Brandon Tate (3, 83) 

Draft Value: Brandon Tate was drafted in a span of four straight WR draft picks in the middle of the third round. The first WR in that span was Derrick Williams and the last was Ramses Barden to the New York Giants. Unfortunately, the receiver drafted one spot after Tate was Pittsburgh Steeler, Mike Wallace. Another notable wide receiver drafted after Tate was Brian Hartline, who fell to the Miami Dolphins in the fourth round. 

End Result: Tate, in his own right, had a decent 2010 season. However, history will judge this pick as coming right before an electrifying talent in Mike Wallace. Wallace went on to have quite a career with the Steelers, finishing his career with 538 receptions, 8,072 yards, and 57 touchdowns. In Tate’s best of his two seasons with the Patriots, he finished with a measly 432 yards on 24 grabs. Both ended up being career highs in a single season.

Grade: (C)

Julian Edelman (7, 232)

Draft Value: There were only three seventh-round wide receivers drafted in 2009 that ended their career in the NFL with more than 100 receiving yards: Sammie Stroughter, Tiquan Underwood, and Julian Edelman. The former two ended their NFL careers within four to five years of being drafted. The latter of the three ended up with three Super Bowl rings and a Super Bowl MVP to go along with the titles.

End Result: Edelman finished his career with the Patriots pulling in 620 receptions for 6,822 yards to go along with 36 receiving touchdowns. In four of his seasons with the Patriots, Edelman was selected as one of the Top 100 players in the entire league. In Super Bowl 53 against the Rams, Edelman pulled in 10 catches for 141 yards on his way to his third Super Bowl title. The seventh-round slot receiver also ranks second all-time in playoff receiving yards behind Jerry Rice. 

Grade: (A+++++++)

2010 Draft:

Context: The Patriots finished the season 10-6 and lost in the AFC wild-card game to the Baltimore Ravens. They came into the 2010 season without Randy Moss and gave Brandon Tate a larger workload.

Taylor Price (3, 90)

Draft Value: Taylor Price was the last wide receiver picked in the third round of the draft. The other wide receivers picked earlier in that exact round were Damian Williams, Brandon LaFell, Emmanuel Sanders, Jordan Shipley, Eric Decker, Andre Roberts, and Armanti Edwards. A decently talented round and draft when it comes to the wide receiver position. In that round alone, LaFell, Sanders, Decker, and Roberts were all able to produce solid careers. 

The highlight of the draft from that position group was Antonio Brown in the latter half of the sixth round. While Brown ended up finding his way onto the Patriots roster later in his career, I’m sure that Belichick and the other 30 general managers in the NFL wish they used an earlier selection on the future Hall of Famer.

End Result: Price played just one full season with the Patriots. He caught three passes to go for 41 yards. His career ended just a year later, and he was out of the NFL.

Grade: (C-)

2012 Draft: 

Context: For the second time in four seasons, the Patriots fell short in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants. The Patriots were coming off an impressive 13-3 regular season with Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker as the starting receivers after a failed Deion Branch 2.0 experiment.

Jeremy Ebert (7, 235)

Draft Value: There were only two wide receivers drafted after Jeremy Ebert in the 2012 draft, Junior Hemingway and Jordan White. Neither of these two players made an impact in the NFL to go along with Ebert.

The 2012 draft was filled with missed evaluations in the wide receiver department. Justin Blackmon was picked in the top five and A.J. Jenkins also went in the first round. The highlights of this draft are Michael Floyd, Alshon Jeffery, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, and T.Y. Hilton. 

End Result: Ebert didn’t even end up making the Patriots roster and ended up playing five games in his career for Jacksonville. 

Grade: (C)

2013 Draft:

Context: The Patriots were coming off a 12-4 season that ended in the AFC Championship Game at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens. New England let Wes Welker walk to their conference rival Denver Broncos after the emergence of Julian Edelman in the slot. There were still questions about who would complement Edelman on the outside. Additionally, the Patriots released tight end Aaron Hernandez after his arrest and Danny Woodhead was poached by the Chargers in free agency. There was a lot of revamping that needed to be done on the offensive side of the ball.

Aaron Dobson (2, 59) 

Draft Value: Aaron Dobson was drafted in the late second round out of necessity. The Patriots had just lost three of their best pass=catchers: Welker, Woodhead, and Hernandez. Dobson was picked 59th overall and finished his career with 698 receiving yards. Here is the list of wide receivers drafted after Dobson that finished with more receiving yards:

  • Terrance Williams
  • Keenan Allen
  • Marquise Goodwin
  • Markus Wheaton
  • Stedman Bailey
  • Quinton Patton
  • Kenny Stills
  • Brice Butler
  • Charles Johnson
  • Marquess Wilson 

This list doesn’t even include the plethora of running backs and tight ends who finished with more productivity in the receiving department than Dobson.

End Result: Dobson ended up playing just three seasons in New England. His first season looked promising, putting up 519 yards in 12 games. However, injuries seemed to hold him back and his career ended with the Cardinals.

Grade: (C)

Josh Boyce (4, 102) 

Draft Value: Much like Dobson, Josh Boyce was drafted before many receivers that ended up proving to be more talented and NFL-ready. Boyce was picked when Kenny Stills and Dennard Robinson were still up for grabs.

End Result: Boyce played just 10 games in his NFL career, all for the Patriots. He finished with nine receptions for 121 yards.

Grade: (C-)

2014 Draft:

Context: Once again, the Patriots season ended in the AFC Championship Game, this time coming as a loss from Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. The Patriots entered the 2014 offseason with Julian Edelman as a clear starter on the inside and Brandon LaFell coming in by way of free agency.

Jeremy Gallon (7, 244)

Draft Value: Jeremy Gallon was the last wide receiver taken in the 2014 draft. It was a draft that had five wide receivers go in the first round: Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks, and Kelvin Benjamin. 

End Result: Gallon never saw the field as he was eventually cut by the Raiders in 2015, which marked the end of his NFL career. 

Grade: (C)

2016 Draft:

Context: For the second time in three seasons, Peyton Manning ended the Patriots’ season in Denver. The Patriots went 12-4 and won their division. Coming into this offseason, the Patriots poached Chris Hogan from their division rival Buffalo Bills to pair with Julian Edelman.

Malcolm Mitchell (4, 112)

Draft Value: Malcolm Mitchell was drafted in the early part of the fourth round in 2016. The only notable wide receiver that was picked after Mitchell was Tyreek Hill. However, Hill was projected to be undrafted due to his domestic violence charge.

End Result: Mitchell’s promising career was cut short in large part to nagging injuries. Knee surgery in 2018 marked the end of his career and led to his announcement of his retirement. Mitchell did manage to finish his rookie season with 32 receptions for 401 yards and four touchdowns.

Mitchell also played a huge part in what many football historians claim to be the greatest win in New England Patriots history, a Super Bowl 51 comeback over the Atlanta Falcons. After falling behind 28-3, Mitchell helped ignite the Patriots comeback totaling 70 yards on six catches. Mitchell also caught all five of his targets from Tom Brady with four of those targets earning the Patriots a first down. 

Grade: (B+)

Devin Lucien (7, 225)

Draft Value: Lucien was one of five receivers picked in the seventh round in 2016. Only one of the five receivers surpassed 100 yards throughout the course of their career.

End Result: Lucien never played a snap in the NFL. He hopped around on practice squads for different organizations and was finally cut for the last time by the Patriots in 2018.

Grade: (C)

2018 Draft: 

Context: The Patriots were coming off a devastating Super Bowl loss to Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles. By way of an injury-riddled season, the Patriots were clearly in need of playmakers on the outside. This led the Patriots to pick up Josh Gordon during the season as well as bringing back Phillip Dorsett and bringing in Cordarrelle Patterson. 

Braxton Berrios (6, 210)

Draft Value: Braxton Berrios was drafted in the latter half of the sixth round in 2018. While there was some productivity in the wide receiver department drafted after Berrios, Auden Tate specifically, no player drafted after Berrios has been more productive in the receiving or the special teams’ department. This was a draft where D.J. Moore was the only receiver to go in the first round.

End Result: Berrios missed his first season in New England due to injury. The Patriots then cut Berrios and their division rival New York Jets were quick to pick him up. Berrios has since played three full seasons with the  Jets and was just chosen for the All-Pro team as a returner. While it clearly didn’t work in New England due to injury, Berrios has proven to be a talented player and a pivotal part of special teams.

Grade: (B)

2019 Draft: 

Context: The Patriots were coming off a Super Bowl 53 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. Julian Edelman had just won Super Bowl MVP, but even with that, there was a clear need for more playmaking on the outside. There were off-the-field issues with Josh Gordon preventing him from playing as many snaps as he would have liked, and even with solid production from Phillip Dorsett, the organization still needed more of an outside presence.

N’Keal Harry (1, 32)

Draft Value: The video of the Vikings’ war room after hearing that the Eagles passed on Justin Jefferson trends every time Jalen Reagor drops a pass. The malpractice that happened with the drafting of N’Keal Harry should be talked about right up there with the viral Jefferson video. 

Harry was drafted four spots before Deebo Samuel. Harry was also picked 20 spots before A.J. Brown. Other wide receivers who were drafted after N’Keal Harry that have had more productive receiving careers include Mecole Hardman, D.K. Metcalf, Diontae Johnson, Terry McLaurin, Hunter Renfrow, and Scotty Miller. 

End Result: In three seasons with the Patriots, Harry has totaled 598 yards on 57 catches. His best season in New England was with Cam Newton at QB, where he put up 309 yards and finished with two touchdowns.

Grade: (F)

2021 Draft:

Context: The Patriots were coming off a 7-9 season where they missed the playoffs for the first time in 12 years. They had a ton of youth at the wide receiver position but ranked toward the bottom of the league in getting separation.

Tre Nixon (7, 242)

Draft Value: There were three wide receivers drafted after Tre Nixon in 2021. Only one of them has had any resemblance of impact in his first season, as Bennett Skowronek has been featured in the Rams’ special teams phase of the game. 

End Result: Nixon is currently on the practice squad for the Patriots but has yet to see his first NFL snap.

Grade: (TBD)