Most, if not all, of the can’t miss NFL draft prospects are off the board by the time the late rounds come around. However, that doesn’t mean that there’s no reason to follow the late picks. This is the part of the draft where teams scouting departments are pushed to the breaking points. The difference between a good and great team often comes down to depth, and that depth is built in these later rounds. Below is a look back at the New England Patriots late round draft history.
The End of the Draft: New England Patriots Late Round Draft History
2016: Elandon Roberts, 214th Overall
The Patriots have made several late-round picks that haven’t made an impact, and that’s to be expected. The most recent late-round pick to make an impact is 2016’s sixth round selection of linebacker Elandon Roberts.
Roberts is not the perfect linebacker by any means, but he doesn’t deserve the hate he gets. When utilized properly, Roberts can be a successful cog in a defense. He’s great as a north-south run stopper, but struggles when forced to play laterally. Essentially, he’s a poor man’s Brandon Spikes.
Roberts gets so much hate mainly due to a lack of linebacker depth. Currently, linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy are the only three-down linebackers on the team. With Hightower injured for most of 2017, Roberts had to be a three-down linebacker even though he really shouldn’t be. Opposing teams targeted him and tried to isolate him in coverage as much as possible. Look for the Patriots to try to obtain better linebacker depth so Roberts won’t have to take on such an extensive role.
2015: Joe Cardona, 166th Overall
This pick might be the most Bill Belichick thing to ever happen. Almost all long snappers go undrafted, so it’s remarkable enough that the Patriots used a fifth-round pick on the position. But nobody loves and values special teams more than Belichick, and this pick exemplified that. Factor in the fact that Joe Cardona came from the Navy, which Belichick has a noted affinity for, and it’s no surprise that this pick happened.
Cardona has done about as well as a long snapper can do. He snaps well, and that’s about all you can ask of him. He’s been consistently reliable, and not all Patriots long snappers can say that. Ultimately, he’s done his job.
2012: Nate Ebner, 197th Overall
Bill Belichick isn’t afraid to use draft stock on special teams, as evidenced by the Nate Ebner selection. A safety in name only, Ebner has become one of the most important members of the special teams squad. Ebner has served as the teams primary punt protector since 2012, and is one of the hardest tacklers on the kickoff team.
The part-time Olympic hockey player has been a member of the Patriots ever since he first entered the league. Belichick absolutely loves Ebner, and New England values special teamers more than just about any other franchise. Much like Matt Slater, expect Ebner to be a Patriot for a very long time.
2012: Alfonzo Dennard, 224th Overall
While Alfonzo Dennard hasn’t played a game since 2014, the Nebraska product actually did manage to put together a few successful seasons for New England. Dennard appeared in 23 games from 2012-2013, starting 16, and actually performed well for a seventh-round pick. In those 23 games, Dennard recorded four interceptions, one forced fumble, and 19 passes defended.
Dennard wasn’t a typical seventh-round pick for Belichick. Dennard had first round talent, but his off the field persona dropped him all the way to the seventh round. His attitude was a concern entering the draft, and his stock plummeted after he punched a police offer just days before the draft.
Belichick and the Patriots made a bet that they could fix Dennard’s attiude and get a steal in the draft. Ultimately, they couldn’t. Dennard was solid on the field, but wasn’t worth the off-field trouble. Dennard’s poor decisions followed him into the NFL, as he was charged with a DUI during his time in New England. The Patriots decided to cut bait after the 2014 season, and he hasn’t played an NFL game since.
New England hasn’t always had the best success in the late rounds, but that’s OK. You can’t find Tom Brady in the sixth-round every year, and it’s always hard to predict which late-round picks will bloom into stars. However, the Patriots relative lack of depth in recent seasons can be traced to poor late round decisions. If New England wants to build the league’s deepest roster, they’ll need to hit on more late-round picks.