After losing Tom Brady and multiple other starters in free agency this offseason, the 2020 NFL Draft is shaping up to be a big one for New England, which might not actually be good news for the team. If there's one thing the Patriots have struggled with over the past few years, it's the draft.
As pointed out by the Boston Herald, the Patriots haven't produced a single Pro Bowler in the draft since 2013, when they selected Jamie Collins in the second round. To put New England's draft struggles in perspective, the only other team in the NFL that's gone six years without producing a Pro Bowler is the Bengals, and as everyone knows, when you're talking about NFL success, the Bengals are not a team you want to be compared to.
The last time Cincinnati drafted a player that ended up being a Pro Bowler also came in 2013 when they used their first-round pick on Tyler Eifert (Eifert and Collins both made the Pro Bowl in 2015). That means both teams have now gone six full drafts (2014-19) without selecting a Pro Bowler. In that span, the Bengals have had a total of 56 picks while the Patriots have had a total of 52.
Of course, you're probably not that surprised to hear that the Bengals have been struggling in the draft over the past few years, because they've been struggling at everything over the past few years. The team's on-field play has reflected their inability to find quality players in the draft. Although Cincinnati has found some talent with guys like Joe Mixon, they've whiffed more often than not. The embarrassing part for the Bengals is that they regularly pick at the top of the draft, which in theory should make it easier for them to find talented players. However, that just hasn't been the case.
The fact that the Patriots haven't been able to find a Pro Bowler in the draft is slightly more understandable, but still a little embarrassing. Due to their immense success over the past six years -- they've played in four Super Bowls and won three of them -- the Patriots have regularly been picking at the bottom of the first round. Patriots coach Bill Belichick loves to wheel-and-deal in the draft, which usually ends with him making trades where he surrenders his higher picks for more picks in lower rounds. Also, Belichick is always emphasizing the fact that football is a team game and that everyone needs to do their job, which makes it difficult for individual players to get showcased, especially young players.
Although the Patriots have been dealing with those issues, let's not use them as excuses for their poor drafting, because other teams also have to deal with those issues. For instance, take the the Chiefs. They've also had a lot of success and had to draft at the bottom of each round, but they're still able to find Pro Bowlers in the draft. On the trading end, the Seahawks are a team that also loves to wheel-and-deal, and they've been able to find Pro Bowlers. The fact of the matter is that the Patriots have just been bad at drafting.
Even though Belichick is the best coach in NFL history, the smart decision-making hasn't carried over to the draft room, with even some of the team's biggest fans admitting that Patriots have been abysmal at drafting over the past few years.
Agree with everything here. The immediate future of the Pats was murky even before Brady left (and he knew it, too). Last few drafts were abysmal. BB has never done anything as risky as a Tua trade-up in 20 years. Need to crush this draft with as many picks as possible. https://t.co/ssMcSNTe4M— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) April 22, 2020
The problem for the Patriots is that they've always had Tom Brady to mask any deficiencies. Brady was basically their safety net. If they whiffed on an offensive player, it didn't matter, because Brady was there to keep the offense rolling. If they whiffed on a defensive player, it didn't matter, because Brady and the offense could make up for that by producing a lot of points.
This year, the Patriots are heading into arguably the biggest draft of the Belichick era, and if they whiff on prospects like they have over the past few years, the dynasty will likely come to a crashing end in New England. From 2009 to 2012, the Patriots drafted guys like Patrick Chung, Rob Gronkowski, Devin McCourty, Nate Solder and Chandler Jones, but since then, the Pats have lost their drafting magic. The Patriots have 12 picks in the 2020 draft, which is tied for the second most in the NFL.
As for the Bengals, if they don't land a Pro Bowler this year, they might as well just fold the franchise. The only way they won't produce a Pro Bowler is if Joe Burrow doesn't pan out, and if that somehow happens, they're going to have bigger problems than worrying about whether or not one of their players makes the Pro Bowl.
Pro Bowl appearances obviously isn't a perfect metric to measure draft success, but it does give you an idea of how well teams have been drafting, and the bottom line is that the Patriots and Bengals have both struggled over the past six years.