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Draft Blues: Belichick, Pats Struggle to Find Productive WR

Taylor Price was the latest WR bust to leave the New England Patriots. (Associated Press)

It’s hard to dispute the success that Bill Belichick and the Patriots scouting department have had plucking players out of the college ranks since 2000.

The likes of Tom Brady, Asante Samuel to Dan Koppen, Matt Cassel and Aaron Hernandez — all were heavily scouted and nice draft choices in the mid-to-late rounds.

But where there’s success also comes disturbing failure.

For whatever reason, the Patriots have struggled — to be nice — to draft a wide receiver that will produce mere mediocrity.

See chart:

Year Player Round ; Pick Stats: From Time w/Patriots Current Status
2002 Deion Branch 2; 65 76 (Games): 309 catches, 4,115 yards, 23 TDs New England Patriots
2002 David Givens 7; 53 53 (Games): 158 catches, 2,214 yards, 12 TDs N/A
2003 Bethel Johnson 2; 45 39 (Games): 30 catches, 450 yards, 4 TDs N/A
2004 P.K. Sam 5; 164 2 (Games): N/A N/A
2006 Chad Jackson 2; 36 14 (Games): 13 catches, 152 yards, 3 TDs Omaha Nighthawks
2009 Brandon Tate 3; 83 18 (Games): 24 catches, 432 yards, 3 TDs Cincinnati Bengals
2010 Taylor Price 3; 90 4 (Games): 3 catches, 41 yards Jacksonville Jaguars
* Graphic does not include Julian Edelman or Matthew Slater.

Both Deion Branch and David Givens was a terrific tandem in New England, but the NFL is a ‘what have you done for me lately’ league. Since 2004, Belichick has gambled and lost on every wide receiver drafted.

Aside from Givens and Branch, the formula seems similar as to why these WRs success hasn’t translated with the Patriots:

  1. High risk; great looking prospect
  2. Injuries

Starting with Bethel Johnson and trickling to Taylor Price, all these receivers possessed rare talents — and all (even P.K. Sam) tested well, and looked like a superstar with shorts and a t-shirt.

How many times over the last four years have we heard a variation of this?

“(Insert player’s name) looks smooth out there. Great speed and solid hands. This could finally be the year he breaks out.”

The Patriots are an organization that has usually bypassed the “boom or bust” prospect for the safer, more conventional, option. But, that strategy has been absent for the wide receiver position. In the cases of Johnson, Chad Jackson, Brandon Tate and Price, the Patriots chose to go with the flashier player.

  • In 2003, the Patriots missed out on Anquan Boldin, who was chosen six picks later by the Arizona Cardinals.
  • In 2006, New England traded with the Green Bay Packers. Jackson joined the Patriots. A guy named Greg Jennings went to Wisconsin.
  • In 2009, the Patriots went with Brandon Tate. Tate, was coming off an ACL/MCL, and the team knew at the time he would have to miss an entire season before he saw the field. Indianapolis Colts receiver Austin Collie went a round later.
  • In 2010, Belichick and Co. took a chance on University of Ohio receiver, Taylor Price. Apparently, not worried that he came from a smaller school, the Patriots missed out on Syracuse’s Mike Williams 11 picks later. (I do understand that Williams carried tremendous baggage)

Yes, the Patriots — to be blunt — missed on some big-time receivers. To be fair, this will happen. For the most part the NFL draft is a crapshoot. But the Patriots have also caught a string of bad-luck injuries that hampered the development of recent receivers.

Chad Jackson, without a doubt, has been the most publicized failure in New England. He caught 88 passes at Florida, ran a 4.34 40-yard dash, and was built like a tight end. Jackson pulled his hamstring in a summer rookie mini-camp with the team and missed the majority of his rookie season.

Things worsened for Jackson. In February, after covering a kick on special teams in the AFC Championship Game against the Colts, Jackson tore his ACL. The injury caused him to miss valued off-season time. This along with the additions of Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth hurt Jackson’s ability to get on-the-field.

For Tate, like we touched upon, he came into camp with an ACL/MCL injury and also dealt with a nagging hamstring injury this summer. From the looks of it, Tate never found a rhythm with the offense and was shown the door in September.

The third time’s the charm.

Taylor Price, a 2010 third round draft choice, had an interesting (and short) ride in New England. In his rookie season (2010), the Patriots used the year as a redshirt experience for Price. But, in 2011, with the ineffectiveness of Chad Ochocinco, Price still never emerged.

He was abruptly released last week.

With both Branch and Wes Welker gaining serious tread on their tires, the Patriots will be in need of a wide receiver this offseason. Since he took over in 2000, Belichick is batting 2-for-5.

Will the Patriots take another chance in April? We don’t know.

But, let’s hope Belichick and the scouting staff have learned from its mistakes.

About Matthew Marcantonio - @M_Marcantonio

Matthew Marcantonio is the Patriots and college football editor at Sports of Boston. Marcantonio has contributed for two newspapers; the Sentinel & Enterprise (Leominster, Mass) and The Advocate (Baton Rouge, La) and held internships with The Bleacher Report and Sports Illustrated.

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