Sunday, March 19, 2006

Big Len Leaves it Unsaid

One of my favorite football writers is Len Pasquarelli of ESPN.com. Anyway, he had a great article posted on ESPN.com (http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/columns/story?columnist=pasquarelli_len&id=2372386) which went over the horrid first round of the 2002 NFL draft that included QB Joey Harrington and OT Mike Williams in the first five picks. Other clunkers of the 2002 draft included CB Quentin Jammer, CB Phillip Buchanon, LB Robert Thomas, LB Napoleon Harris, OT Marc Colombo (formerly of Brockton High School), WR Ashley Lelie, WR Donte Stallworth, RB William Green (of Boston College), CB Mike Rumph, and Super Bowl goat TE Jerramy Stevens. All in all, an incredibly uninspiring group.

Of course, in the entire article, there was not a single mention of the Patriots and their pick that season. Jumping online, I decided to see if I could find out who the Patriots had drafted in 2002.

New England Patriots 2002 Draft Picks:

First round, number 21 overall: Dan Graham, TE.
Second round, number 65 overall: Deion Branch, WR.
Fourth round, number 117 overall: Rohan Davey, QB.
Fourth round, number 126 overall: Jarvis Green, DE.
Seventh round, number 237 overall: Antwoine Womack, HB.
Seventh round, number 244 overall: David Givens, WR.

In looking over the ultimate mixed bag that represented the draft by Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli that season, I can see why Len stayed far, far away from mentioning the Patriots first round draft pick that year: Four years later and no one knows what to make of Dan Graham. A tenacious blocker, Graham is like having an extra tackle on the line of scrimmage; however, no one trades up in the first round for a blocking tight end. Graham, of course, is big, fast, strong, and athletic. He has all the skills to be a fantastic tight end, yet has never seen to be able to put it all together. In fact, he has been so inconsistent as a receiver that Ben Watson (the next tight end the Patriots took in the first round) has become the number one tight end target for Tom Brady.

Of course, how many teams find a Super Bowl MVP in the second round? Or draft a wide receiver who scores a $24 million dollar contract four years later with the number 244 pick? Nick Saban also sent over Jarvis Green, a valuable addition to the defensive line, and Rohan Daveym, who could have been a decent backup, but never seemed to put it together. Antwoine Womack was a seventh round shot-in-the-dark coming off a knee injury. Unfortunately, it was a failed venture, but if you hit 50% in the seventh round, you are doing all right.

All-in-all, there can be no complaints about the 2002 draft for the Patriots. They got four years out of David Givens, three out of Rohan Davey, four fairly solid years and counting from Jarvis Green and Dan Graham, and an impact wide receiver in the second round. Drafts like that ae what make the team a perennial contender for the Super Bowl. It is a good lesson fo these wild, wacky, and panic-filled days of fee agency for Patriots fans: championships are built through the draft and supplemented through free agency. Teams throwing around ridiculous money in free agency pay the price in the end. Teams that build a strong nucleus through good drafting have a huge advantage.

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