Patriots in trouble at receiver given Bill Belichick’s draft history
Tom Brady has one career reception, a 23-yarder during a 2001 win over Miami — as many catches as three of the 10 receivers Bill Belichick has drafted as New England’s head coach (Jeremy Ebert, Matthew Slater and P.K. Sam) have combined in their careers.
That, in a nutshell, helps explain why the Patriots made an offer to restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders, in an effort to swipe him from Pittsburgh. Belichick has pieced together a brilliant career since taking over as the Patriots’ head coach in 2000, and he has mostly enjoyed success in the draft.
Just not at wide receiver. Only two of Belichick’s draft picks at that position, Deion Branch and David Givens (both from the 2002 class) have more than 100 career catches; a third, Julian Edelman remains a versatile bit player for the Patriots.
The rest? Nada.
A quick history of Belichick’s WR draft picks:
• Jeremy Ebert — Round 7, 2012: zero career catches
• Taylor Price — Round 3, 2010: 5 catches, 80 yards
• Brandon Tate — Round 3, 2009: 37 catches, 643 yards, four TDs (Tate played for the Bengals last season)
• Julian Edelman — Round 7, 2009: 69 catches, 714 yards, four TDs
• Matthew Slater — Round 5, 2008: 1 catch, 46 yards
• Chad Jackson — Round 2, 2006: 14 catches, 171 yards, 3 TDs
• P.K. Sam — Round 5, 2004: zero catches
• Bethel Johnson — Round 2, 2003: 39 catches, 606 yards, 4 TDs
• Deion Branch — Round 2, 2002: 518 catches, 6,644 yards, 39 TDs
• David Givens — Round 7, 2002: 166 catches, 2,318 yards, 12 TDs (Givens retired, then sued the Titans after a knee injury in 2006)
The receiver position, though the Patriots have had a rather constant need there over the past few seasons, has been Belichick’s albatross in the draft. New England has never used a Round 1 pick on a WR under Belichick … and it has not had much success in other rounds over the past decade.
So, Sanders, a promising 26-year-old coming off a career-high 44 catches, represented a safe and relatively cheap gamble. The Steelers’ decision to match the Patriots’ one-year, $2.5 million offer sheet to Sanders leaves Belichick between a rock and a hard place — he cannot head into the season with a receiving corps of Danny Amendola, Michael Jenkins, Donald Jones and Edelman (especially with Rob Gronkowski’s status up in the air); but his record doesn’t bring much hope for finding a solution in this year’s draft.
Making that failure even more noticeable is that Belichick has hit consistent home runs at tight end: Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Ben Watson are upper-echelon picks, while David Thomas and Daniel Graham have produced lengthy NFL careers.
Though this year’s group of rookie receivers appears to be fairly deep, the Patriots’ situation is made even more difficult by their lack of draft picks. Sanders staying in Pittsburgh keeps a third-round selection in the Patriots’ possession, but they do not have any picks between rounds four and six currently.
Which leaves picks 29, 59 and 91 to find some help at receiver (though Belichick does love to wheel and deal in the draft).
New England’s other option? Go back to the well and re-sign Branch and Brandon Lloyd, two veterans who combined for 90 catches last season (74 by Branch). That’s not a bad Plan B, but the Patriots’ goal is to upgrade from their 2012 passing attack — and a Branch/Lloyd reunion hardly qualifies.
The Patriots were not overly desperate to land Sanders — they would have made a bigger offer, were that the case. But missing out on him likely leaves New England needing to find one, and possibly more, receivers in this draft.
History shows that’s a shaky spot for the Patriots to be.