One of the bigger false narratives surrounding Bill Belichick is that he cannot successfully draft and develop wide receivers. The Patriots currently have a glaring need at the wide receiver position and New England is expected to invest an early-round pick in the receiver position. Bill Belichick has missed on multiple early-round wide receivers, leaving some to worry about his ability to scout and develop the position. However, a further dive into the numbers shows that the Patriots are actually good at drafting wide receivers when compared to the rest of the league.
Bill Belichick, New England Patriots Above Average at Drafting, Developing Wide Receivers
In order to fully assess Belichick’s ability to develop wide receivers, let’s take a look back at every receiver he’s ever selected. Since the 2000 season, the Patriots have taken 16 wide receivers in the NFL Draft. Of those 16, only 14 should count towards this exercise. Matthew Slater is a wide receiver in name only and isn’t asked to play offense. Additionally, 2018 sixth-round pick Braxton Berrios missed his entire rookie season with an injury. It’s far too early to make an assessment on his career.
Excluding the two aforementioned receivers, the Patriots have selected four wide receivers in the second round, two in the third, two in the fourth, one in the fifth, and five in the seventh. Of New England’s four wide receivers selected in the second round, only Deion Branch ended up working out. Bethel Johnson, Aaron Dobson, and Chad Jackson were all disasters. Likewise, third-round picks Brandon Tate and Taylor Price couldn’t last in New England. Hitting on one of six early-round picks obviously isn’t ideal, but New England’s luck improves later on in the draft.
The Patriots went one for two in the fourth round, hitting on Malcolm Mitchell and striking out on Josh Boyce. Some might argue Mitchell is a bust, but I would dispute that. New England doesn’t win Super Bowl LI without Mitchell, and his career ended prematurely due to injuries. If a fourth-round pick plays a major role in a Super Bowl championship, that’s a good pick. However, for the sake of argument, let’s say that Mitchell only counts for half a hit.
The Patriots are absurdly good at drafting receivers in the seventh round. New England selected five wide receivers in the final round of the draft, with two turning into major players. Julian Edelman is arguably the second-most important player in New England’s second dynasty, while David Givens was a solid WR2 for New England’s first dynasty. Jeremy Gallon, Devin Lucien, and Jeremy Ebert flamed out, but it’s hard to get too mad about that.
How the League Drafts
SB Nation’s Arrowhead Pride released a study back in 2015 detailing the average positional draft success rate by round. Per SB Nation, a successful pick was defined as a player who started at least half of their professional games played.
According to the data, the wide receiver success rate is 49% in the second round, 25% in the third round, 12% in the fourth round, 16% in the fifth round, and 5% in the seventh round. For the sake of easy viewing, let’s take a look at the table below to see how New England has fared by round relative to the league average
|Round||Picks Made||League-Average Hit Rate||Actual Successful Picks||Expected Successful Picks|
Based on draft investment, New England actually has had MORE success drafting wide receivers than the league average. While they’ve historically struggled in the earlier rounds, they more than make up for it with their late-round selections.
Last Word on New England Patriots’ Ability to Develop Wide Receivers
The New England Patriots haven’t developed many wide receivers in the Belichick Era, but that’s primarily because the Patriots haven’t invested much in the position. New England is the only team to not use a first-round pick on a wide receiver since 2000 and their 14 draft selections are one of the fewest over that same timeframe.
When the Patriots actually draft receivers, they tend to do about as well as they should. While they’ve missed on their fair share of early-round receivers, they’ve managed to find a few diamonds in the rough late in the draft. Julian Edelman, Deion Branch, and David Givens were hits, and one could easily argue Malcolm Mitchell was worth the fourth-round investment.
Based on the draft capital invested in the position, a league-average team would have gotten three good wide receivers. The Patriots got four, albeit Mitchell’s time on the field was significantly shorter than Edelman, Branch, and Givens. This doesn’t factor in that the Patriots are always drafting at the end of rounds, making it even harder to select good players. The odds are against New England, yet they still select good players.
Bill Belichick isn’t as good at drafting wide receivers as he is at everything else, but he’s still capable of bringing in pass-catching talent. No matter who the Patriots select in the 2019 NFL Draft, fans should feel comfortable knowing that Bill Belichick is the man calling the shots.
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