The roster-building reality that shows Patriots' true genius

Rob Bradford
January 22, 2019 - 11:50 am

It has been easy to pick through the Patriots' drafts and highlight the misses. When attempting to define the in-season downturns this team made that was the first stop for many.

Not enough hits in the first few rounds, leaving Bill Belichick with a glaring lack of top-level talent.

With another Super Bowl trip a few days away, it's time to revisit that narrative.

The Patriots have undoubtedly whiffed on some of their top-round choices, with 2014 first-rounder (and current Ram) Dominque Easley immediately coming to mind. The fact is that in the first three rounds over recent years Belichick and his crew should and could have done better. But while the criticism has always been easy to uncover, the real story of this team takes a little more effort to decipher.

In a nutshell, the Patriots have been unworldly when it comes to building a Super Bowl roster with players the rest of the NFL could have easily had.

Let's look at those who presented the foundation for that win in Kansas City:

Tom Brady (duh), sixth-round, 199th overall pick.

Don't worry, there's more ...

Offensive line? Joe Thuney was drafted in the third round with the 78th overall pick, but that would represent the greatest draft value of any of this group.

Trent Brown came over from San Francisco along with a fifth-round pick (which turned out to be promising linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley) for a third-rounder. Shaq Mason (4th round) and Marcus Cannon (5th round) proved to be among the best in the league at their position. And center David Andrews wasn't even drafted.

Andrews wasn't the only one on the field at Arrowhead Stadium who played a key role despite signing as an undrafted rookie free agent. Cornerbacks Jonathan Jones and J.C. Jackson were tasked with helping lock down two of the Chiefs most important players in Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce respectively. Jones also got help from seventh-rounder Keion Crossen. Defensive lineman Adam Butler? Another one who wasn't drafted but made a mark, actually seeing six more snaps than first-rounder Malcom Brown last Sunday.

Other key members of this Patriots' defense also came at remarkably manageable costs. Their best pass rusher, Trey Flowers, was a fourth-rounder (101st overall). Perhaps the defender offering the most impact, Kyle Van Noy, was reeled in from Detroit along with a seventh-round pick for a sixth-round selection. Another contributor in the defensive backfield, Jason McCourty, they got along with a seventh-round pick (which turned out to be quarterback Danny Etling) for a sixth-round spot. Elandon Roberts (sixth-rounder) and John Simon (signed in September after the Colts released him) each also saw significant time.

Yes, Sony Michel (first-round) and Rob Gronkowski (second-round) each were taken fairly high in their respective drafts (although the Bengals did draft tight end Jermaine Gresham well before Gronk), but the other pieces of the 37-point puzzle weren't so obvious to the rest of the NFL.

Julian Edelman (duh, again), seventh-round, 232nd overall pick.

Phillip Dorsett was more useful than Jacoby Brissett (a third-rounder), the quarterback he was traded for, would have been.

The Patriots have certainly got the most out of the three-year, $12 million contract given to Chris Hogan, who would have stayed in Buffalo if it chose to match the offer.

Rex Burkhead's three-year, $9.75 million contract appears more prudent than the four-year, $20 million it would have cost to match Dion Lewis' deal with the Titans.

James White? He was the 130th overall pick (fourth-round) in 2014. The running backs picked before him were Bishop Sankey, Jeremy Hill, Carlos Hyde, Charlie Sims, Tre Mason, Terrance West, Jerick McKinnon, Bashaud Breeland, Devonta Freeman (OK, he's pretty good), Andre Williams, Ka'Deem Carey, and De'Anthony Thomas. So, there you go.

Even a couple of key bit parts of the offensive attack came at very palatable costs, with the Patriots trading a fifth-round pick to Oakland for Cordarelle Patterson and a sixth-rounder, and Belichick doing a deal with the Colts for Dwayne Allen and a sixth-round selection (turning out to be Roberts) for a fourth-round selection.

The trend extends to special teams, as well thanks to Stephen Gostkowski (fourth-round), Matthew Slater (fifth-round), Nate Ebner (sixth-round), punter Ryan Allen (rookie free agent) and long-snapper Joe Cardona (fifth-round).

Sure, the Patriots have spent somewhat loosely on occasion, hitting on one in Stephon Gilmore and seemingly overpaying on another with Adrian Clayborn. But the vast majority of this Super Bowl team is made up of players who were there for the taking.

In this case, New England out-smarted the NFL once again.