By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff


I can’t believe we’re already focused on the draft. The Senior Bowl is this week, and we’ve already been getting reports of various prospects and whether they might be good fits for the Patriots.

Many of us hoped that the Patriots might still have a game to play at this point, but that’s not the case. So we’re stuck pondering the future. An unknown future, what with the labor uncertainty in the NFL, which makes things seem even more bleak.

Looking ahead, what needs will the Patriots look to fill come April? My best guess is that they will focus on both sides of the line, looking to get more victories at the line of scrimmage. I also think they might look at the running back position – Ian Rapoport at the Boston Herald (a former Alabama beat writer) has been beating the drum for ‘Tide running back Mark Ingram since the start of the season.

One thing we do know. The Patriots will come out of this draft with an impact player.

There has been criticism of the Patriots drafts among the local media, especially in the period between ’06 to ’08. But there is one point that is indisputable.

In every single season of the Bill Belichick era, save one – 2002 when they drafted Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch – the Patriots have drafted at least one player who went on to play in the Pro Bowl or be named 1st or 2nd team NFL All Pro.

Check it out:

2010 – Devin McCourty, Pro Bowl, 2nd team All Pro
2009 – Sebastian Vollmer – 2nd team All Pro
2008 – Jerod Mayo, Pro Bowl, NFL All Pro
2007 – Brandon Meriweather, 2-time Pro Bowl
2006 – Stephen Gostkowski – Pro Bowl, NFL All Pro
2005 – Logan Mankins, 3-time Pro Bowl, All Pro
2005 – Matt Cassel – Pro Bowl
2004 – Vince Wilfork – 3-time Pro Bowl, NFL All Pro
2003 – Ty Warren (NFL All Pro 2007)
2003 – Asante Samuel 4-time Pro Bowl
2001 – Richard Seymour 6-time Pro Bowl,NFL All Pro
2001 – Matt Light –  3-time Pro Bowl
2000 – Tom Brady, 6-time Pro Bowl, NFL All Pro

Now, you might quibble with some of the selections (ahem, Brandon Meriweather) but he has been selected to the Pro Bowl twice, it counts for something. (For the record, I hope they find a way to move on from him this offseason.) You might scoff at a kicker being on the list, but Stephen Gostkowski more than filled the shoes of the great Adam Vinatieri, and his leg on kickoffs is a huge weapon to have. But overall, every single season the Patriots are adding an impact player through the draft.

How does this compare to other teams?

Just looking at the Patriots main AFC rivals, only Pittsburgh has a similar track record. They don’t have a Pro Bowler from their 2010 or 2009 drafts yet, but in every other season except 2002, they’ve drafted an eventual Pro Bowl player.

Indianapolis did well for a while, but they’ve stumbled in recent years. Look at 2001 through 2004: Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Dallas Clark, Bob Sanders. Then look at the last few years.

San Diego doesn’t.

Baltimore doesn’t.

The Jets don’t, though they’ve been surprisingly good in the draft.

The bottom line is that while the Patriots have stumbled badly in the draft some years, they’re certainly not alone in this regard. However, every year, somewhere along the line, they’re going to draft a player who will make an impact for them. Another thing to keep in mind is that because the team is generally very good year in and year out, there are going to be limited opportunities and roster spots for rookies, especially in a year like 2007.

Finding players who can play each year is a big part of the reason they’ve remained among the top teams in the league for so long.