by Dan Zeigarnik, Patriots Daily Writer

There has been a lot of talk about the Patriots’ need to draft impact players with their early round draft picks. It’s seemingly been decided that the Belichick philosophy of signing free agents and drafting versatile, coachable, and football-smart players with an emphasis on ‘value’ is no longer a winning strategy. The decade-long track record of success has been discarded, and understandably so, as the last taste in the fans mouth was the flat-lined effort against the Ravens in the first round of the playoffs. A game in which the offense was predictable and their defense couldn’t stop the run, get to the quarterback, or cover down the field. The Patriots were missing impact players on par with New Orleans’ Will Smith or the Jets Bart Scott that can wreak havoc on opposing teams.

Armed with a litany of concerns, the fans geared up for the 2010 draft with an eye to select immediate game changers. However, much to their dismay, the Patriots traded down in the first round once again and drafted Devin McCourty, an under-the-radar CB from Rutgers. An enraged fanbase started jamming the talk radio phone lines, “I’m sick of the ‘in Bill we trust’ motto. Dez Bryant and Sergio Kindle were on the board!” caller after caller exclaimed.

This got me thinking: who says that McCourty won’t be great? And how well do the Patriots evaluate draft prospects in the first round? It’s easy to claim that the Patriots have had miserable draft years because Chad Jackson and Bethel Johnson were busts and most of the players they drafted since 2007 are no longer on our roster. However, a case can be made that the Patriots know how to draft in the 1st round.

While there is room for debate as to whether or not the Patriots could have made better picks, their track record of selecting standout players in the 1st round is undeniable. Going back to 2001, the selected Richard Seymour, Daniel Graham, Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, Ben Watson, Laurence Maroney, Brandon Merryweather, Logan Mankins, Jerod Mayo. Some of these players certainly didn’t live up to the hype but they were all impact players who got considerable playing time.

A skeptic might claim that this track record is not impressive because most first round picks become starters and that the Patriots could have done better. Well see for yourself. Below is a list of their draft picks by year and the players that were selected soon after them.

2004 2005 2006
32(32) Ben Watson 32(32) Logan Mankins 21(21) Laurence Maroney
1(33) Karlos Dansby 1(33) David Baas 22(22) Manny Lawson
2(34) Chris Snee 2(34) Brodney Pool 23(23) Davin Joseph
3(35) Igor Olshansky 3(35) Reggie Brown 24(24) Johnathan Joseph
4(36) Junior Siavii 4(36) Barrett Ruud 25(25) Santonio Holmes
5(37) Teddy Lehman 5(37) Shaun Cody 26(26) John McCargo
6(38) Ricardo Colclough 6(38) Stanford Routt 27(27) DeAngelo Williams
7(39) Daryl Smith 7(39) Mark Bradley 28(28) Marcedes Lewis
8(40) Ben Troupe 29(29) Nick Mangold
9(41) Tatum Bell 30(30) Joseph Addai
10(42) Travis LaBoy 31(31) Kelly Jennings
11(43) Julius Jones 32(32) Mathias Kiwanuka
12(44) Bob Sanders
2007 2008 2009
24(24) Brandon Meriweather 7(7) Sedrick Ellis 23(23) Michael Oher (Traded NE Pick)
25(25) Jon Beason 8(8) Derrick Harvey 24(24) Peria Jerry
26(26) Anthony Spencer 9(9) Keith Rivers 25(25) Vontae Davis
27(27) Robert Meachem 10(10) Jerod Mayo 26(26) Clay Matthews (Traded NE Pick)
28(28) Joe Staley 11(11) Leodis McKelvin
29(29) Ben Grubbs 12(12) Ryan Clady
30(30) Craig Davis 13(13) Jonathan Stewart
31(31) Greg Olsen 14(14) Chris Williams
32(32) Anthony Gonzalez

The Logan Mankins pick in 2005 was undeniably the best pick at that position, while the Maroney pick has so far not panned out as was expected. The rest are up for debate. However, the Patriots clearly are good at evaluating first round talent and with that in mind fans should be excited about Devin McCourty to bolster an already revamped secondary.