It's an age old football argument: Why did a certain team take a certain player with their first round pick when they could have drafted someone who has turned out to be a better player instead?
Once a player is drafted, it's easy for football fans to ponder what might have been, especially if the draftee fails to live up to expectations. What is often overlooked, however, is the fact that often times the NFL draft is akin to playing the lottery: sometimes you hit the jackpot, while other times you strike out.
Keeping the aforementioned facts in mind, let us now take into consideration how well the Patriots draftees within the last five years have performed during that period. With the help of the website pro-football-reference.com, we can compare stats of actual players drafted with players of the same position that the Patriots could have selected later.
The question to be answered is whether or not the player made an impact by their second year in the league. Player's rookie seasons have not been taken into consideration because some players take longer to adjust to the rigors of the NFL than others.
Lastly, we need to see when, if ever, that player finally has an impact on the Patriots' success. It may take several years before the player makes an impact, but if he's not producing by the end of his second season, how much value does he bring?
So without any further ado, let's analyze:
2003: The addition of defensive backs Asante Samuel (4th-round, 120th overall) and Eugene Wilson (2nd-round, 36th overall), as well as defensive end Ty Warren (1st-round, 13th overall) highlighted the 2003 Patriots Draft class. Samuel started off well, recording two interceptions in his rookie season, including one for a touchdown. His tackles increased over the next few years. In 2006, he had his best season as a pro registering 10 picks and 65 tackles (60 solo).
Wilson became an immediate impact player, starting 15 games in 2003, while recording 4 interceptions and 62 tackles (47 solo). His tackles increased to 69 (59 solo) the next season, but a dreadful third season, which saw both his tackles and interceptions diminish, cost him. Plagued by injuries, his totals have fallen every year since. Now he's moved on to the Buccaneers to try and revive his career.
Warren played in all 16 games as a rookie, starting in just four, but showed he was starter material that year. Given a chance to start in 2004, he did not disappoint, recording four sacks and 49 tackles (40 solo). He has started every game since, posting a career-best 7-sack season in 2006 as a key member of the Patriots defensive line.
Other defensive ends taken after Warren in the first round such as the Bears' Michael Haynes (1st-round, 14th overall) and the Raiders' Taylor Brayton (1st-round, 32nd overall), haven't been so lucky. Haynes has been out of football since 2005 and Warren has more career sacks (17.5 to 6.5) and solo tackles (189 to 142) than Brayton.
Likewise, Wilson has more tackles and interceptions than the Vikings Mike Doss and Samuel has recorded 15 more career picks than the Steelers Ike Taylor, (22 to 7.)
2004: The class of 2004 was highlighted by the selection of nose tackle Vince Wilfork (1st-round, 24th overall) and tight end Benjamin Watson (1st-round, 32nd overall). Wilfork was a part time player in 2004, starting 6 games and sacking two quarterbacks. As a fulltime player the following season, his tackle production increased to 53 (40 solo) from 32 (27 solo), but his sack total dropped to just 0.5. He has improved over time, recording a pair of sacks and 48 tackles (36 solo) last season resulting in a Pro Bowl selection.
Watson remained a steady receiving tight end for the Patriots, increasing his reception total from 2 to 29, to 49 between his first, second, and third seasons. Injuries limited his production last year, as he only started 12 games.
Wilfork was the only nose tackle taken in the first round, so it's difficult to compare him to others. Watson however has only 10 more career receptions than Tennessee's Ben Troupe, (116 to 106) but has 7 more touchdowns, (13 to 6.)
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2005: Among the Patriots draftees in 2005 were quarterback Matt Cassel (7th-round, 230th overall) and defensive backs Ellis Hobbs (3rd-round, 84th overall) and James Sanders (4th-round, 133rd overall) In his three years backing up Tom Brady, Cassel has only appeared in 14 games. He has also seen his attempts cut down from 24 in his first year to only 7 by his third. Hobbs made an immediate impact on the team, picking off three passes and getting 44 tackles (35 solo). His tackle production increased in year two by two, with one less interception. He has also returned a kickoff for touchdowns in each of the last two seasons. Sanders doubled his season total solo tackles in each of the last two years from the previous year, 16 total tackles (13 solo) in 2005 to 44 (26 solo) in 2006 and 71 (52 solo).
The only quarterback drafted after Cassel was Harvard's Ryan Fitzpatrick (7th-round, 250th overall) by the Rams. Fitzpatrick has thrown more career touchdown passes than the Patriots signal caller, (4 to 2) and gotten three career starts. However, he has also thrown 8 career interceptions compared to Cassel's two.
Sanders and Hobbs have both outlasted Green Bay's Michael Hawkins (5th-round, 167th overall), who is currently out of football. But the Bears choice of Chris Harris (6th-round, 181st overall) now with the Panthers, seemed wise as he posted as many interceptions as Hobbs and four more than Sanders.
2006: The Patriots drafted running back Laurence Maroney (1st-round, 21st overall) and kicker Stephen Gotskowski (4th-round, 118th overall) in 2006. Maroney equaled his touchdown input from his rookie season and rushed for 90 more years in his sophomore year. Gotskowski made one more field goal last year, and improved his extra point percentage by 2.7%.
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Compared to Carolina Panthers' DeAngelo Williams (1st-round, 27th overall), Maroney has rushed for more yards and touchdowns, but has more than 1000 yards and 7 touchdowns less than Indianapolis Colts running back Joseph Addai (1st-round, 30th -overall).
San Diego chose Kurt Smith (6th-round, 188th overall) as the only other kicker drafted after Gotskowski. Smith never played a down in the NFL
2007: Last year's first-round pick (24th overall) DB Brandon Meriweather, recorded just 27 tackles (18 solo) in limited play. So far, he has been outplayed by San Diego Chargers defensive back Eric Weddle (2nd-round, 37th overall), who has twice as many solo tackles as well as an interception and sack.
It will be interesting to see if Meriweather can step into the spots vacated by Samuel and Wilson and have a strong second year
Based on the evidence, it can be concluded that for the most part, the Patriot draft picks over the last five years have made an impact by the sophomore season and have outplayed later draftees of the same position.
The Patriots obviously hope that trend will continue.
Dan Pieroni is a special contributor to PatriotsInsider.com. You can leave feedback for Dan ( here ) at PatriotsInsider.com.
Who did other fans want?