Patriots show signs that Belichick’s draft slump is ending

Henry McKenna
FOX Sports AFC East Lighter

of of the New England Patriots 23-21 preseason loss To new york giants Thursday night became a case study of Bill Belichick’s drafting successes and failures over the past five years.

The Patriots corner the team’s 2019 second-round pick on the same night that 2022 New England second-round pick Tyquan Thornton eluded a holding penalty for a touchdown. Back Jojuan Williams allowed a touchdown to receiver Richie James with laughable ease.

With the Patriots’ starters resting, Thornton got a chance to start. Williams didn’t enter the game until the second quarter — and he played until the end of the game. Frankly, with teams drafting his two cornerbacks, plus he’s signed to two free agencies, Williams is more likely to miss the cut than to be on the team.

So what’s so important about these two players and these two plays? They represent two different eras in Belichick’s draft history.

From 2016 to 2019, New England struggled uncharacteristically in the draft, and the 2019 and 2018 classes looked particularly barren. They definitely overwhelmed his N’Keal Harry, his first-round pick of 2019. He and Williams were the infamous headliners of a 10-pick draft that actually only produced running back Damian Harris and punter Jake Bailey.

Sonny Michele (1st round) and Duke Dawson (2nd round), both from the 2018 draft class, seem to have missed their chances. In his 2017 draft, in which the Patriots picked just four of him, only defensive end Dietrich his Wise remains on the team.

New England found themselves setting free agency spending records during the 2021 offseason, with the Pats teaming up with outside linebacker Matthew Judon, receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Vaughn, and cornerback Jaren Mills. , and added tight ends Hunter Henry and Johnne Smith. others. The Patriots spent him $163 million in bondage during the offseason. Their roster was short on talent. This was mostly because we weren’t making the most of Draft’s high selection.

The owner Robert Kraft, who pays these contracts, had some thoughts on the waste.

“I remember always making fun of teams that spent so much in the offseason,” Kraft said at the March 2021 owners’ meeting. and I am very aware of it.”

Kraft then appeared to tweak his general manager, Belichick.

“A team that drafts really well is a consistently good team,” Kraft said. “I don’t feel like we’ve done our best job in the last few years. I really hope and believe we’ll see a different approach this year. Ultimately it all comes down to what happens on the field. We won’t know how good the draft is for at least two years.”

Fast forward about a year and things are looking up.

Thursday night’s preseason game was a reminder that Belichick is starting to reverse that trend. He’s drafting like he’s back in the 2000s. If that’s a bit of an exaggeration to your liking, he’s clearly not drafted at a (lower) level from 2016-2019.

Against the Giants, the coach rested some of the stars for this pointless game. That’s why we didn’t look to recent draft gems like quarterback Mac Jones, defensive tackle Christian Barmore, running back Ramondre Stevenson, safety Kyle Duggar and guard Michael Onwenu. . These players are at the center of the team’s new wave of young talent. They are safe in the first role.

And there were others who were on display to fulfill their potential.

The rookie class was great. His first-round pick for 2022, guard Cole Strange puts no pressure in two series of plays, performing well in his runs, turning or driving defenders and leading the team’s running him. I made space for the back of the. Fourth-round cornerback Jack Jones put in a strong lockdown performance, scoring his breakup pass. The defensive tackle and his sixth-round pick Sam Roberts scored some pressure internally against both Giants quarterback Daniel Jones and Tyrod his Taylor.

And the 2020 and 2021 players looked poised for a breakout moment. Outside linebacker Anfanie Jennings delivered a brutal quarterback hit on Jones, forcing an incompleteness – the end of his night came quickly. Josh Yuche scored a pressure and a sack on the Giants’ second drive, effectively ending the series. I went deep into it.

Safety Having enjoyed an impressive training camp, Joshuah Bledsoe started on defense and recorded three tackles in short snap counts. Also Cam McGrone (2021 Round 5) was an inside linebacker in the first half where he had an outstanding game with 5 tackles and finished the game with 7 tackles. Surprisingly, in 2021 he made an impact in the 7th round, recording his second-most receiving yards on the team, even over Nixon (81).

All of those players came from the final three draft classes.

Not everything shines during the regular season. But the fact they made the difference on Thursday should make Belichick smile. And — no kidding — he was legitimately smiling and laughing at halftime. . here it is.

Recent stories say Patriots coaches and GMs have lost the ability to identify uniquely talented players, as they did during their Super Bowl winning streak. There is some truth in that story.

And when Belichick seemed to have reached nearly every selection over the course of the 2022 NFL Draft — expect Strange to go to Round 1, Thornton to go to Round 2, or Jack Jones to go to Round 4. Few did—Belichick further damaged his reputation. If the class didn’t go well, he prepared the media for a round of “I told you so”.

But on a night like Thursday, when these players seemed capable and sometimes dominant, it looked like Belichick might have the last laugh.

Prior to joining FOX Sports as an AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow @McKennAnalysis on Twitter.

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