Drafting Offense-First Has Not Always Worked Out for the New England Patriots

In the 2024 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots will have the opportunity to take a player of their choice with the third-overall selection. It is the first time that the organization has had a top-five draft pick since 1994 when they drafted Willie McGinest fourth overall. Obviously, he ended up becoming a three-time Super Bowl champion and a staple of the Patriots dynasty. However, not all of their first-round picks achieved the level of success that they expected to have when they were drafted, especially on the offensive side in the past decade.

Let’s look at the last five offensive players drafted by the New England Patriots and assess the type of trend that they are following at the moment.

Drafting Offense-First Has Not Always Worked Out in New England

2022: (29) Cole Strange, Guard from Chattanooga

Cole Strange was one of the most surprising players drafted in the first round, but it seemed apropos that the Patriots with Bill Belichick would take him at that particular spot. After all, this was the same regime that drafted safety Kyle Dugger out of Lenoir-Rhyne in the second round, who ended up being a successful draft pick for them.

Regardless of the “reach” that Belichick took to draft Cole Strange, the offensive line was starting to lose its most notable players, so taking a guard was a huge need at the time. The Patriots had moved on from their two starting guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason in the last two free agency periods, and they needed another young player to complement a rising star in the versatile Michael Onwenu.

In the two years that he has started for New England, he has shown incredible progress in his development as a starting left guard. His rookie season was not the most promising, like many other first-round picks over the years, but his sophomore year showed tremendous improvement in both his run-blocking and pass protection, so 2024 will be the biggest season of his life that will determine his future with the team.

It is still too early to determine if he was a good draft pick or not, but he is heading in the right direction so far, so we will see how he does in a make-or-break third season.

2021: (15) Mac Jones, Quarterback from Alabama

Some will label Mac Jones as a bust, others will say that the organization failed him throughout his tenure, but the real answer is that it is somewhere in the middle.

At the time he was drafted in the first round, Jones was seen as a slam dunk. He had just won the National Championship in his final season with the program, and while he did have the Heisman winner DeVonta Smith as his number one receiver, Jones still finished that year with 41 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Many were saying that he was the most pro-ready quarterback, and when he beat Cam Newton out for the starting job, Jones was given his chance to shine.

While there were growing pains throughout the season, he showed way more promise than setbacks. He led the Patriots to a 10-7 record with the sixth seed clinched in the AFC, throwing 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, while also finishing with the second-highest completion percentage from any rookie quarterback in NFL history! Even after a stunning collapse to the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card, Mac Jones was on pace to become the next face of the franchise, and all he needed was a better team around him to keep going up that mountain.

However, any type of development or progress was halted when Bill Belichick made Matt Patricia the new offensive coordinator, not too long after Josh McDaniels accepted the head coaching job with the Las Vegas Raiders. In his second season, Jones showed signs of regression and frustration. Not only did he miss a few games due to an ankle sprain, but he only threw 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, a huge drop-off from what was a phenomenal rookie year.

Heading into 2023, it was a make-or-break year for the former first-round quarterback. Now that he had a sharper offensive mind in Bill O’Brien calling the plays, many thought that Jones could prove that last year was a fluke, but it was the exact opposite. Even with a bare supporting cast, he was just flat-out awful. His confidence was scattered, he was more skittish in the pocket than he had ever been, and the turnovers kept piling up week after week. In a Week 12 matchup against the New York Giants, he was benched at halftime for backup Bailey Zappa, and Jones never played another snap that season.

He was eventually traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars for a sixth-round pick, where he will now be the backup quarterback for Trevor Lawrence. This pick really stings because this was a player that was on pace to have a successful NFL career and he had done everything in his power to make sure it was successful. Yes, the turnovers and decision-making never improved whatsoever. At the same time, any quarterback could have failed if they had Matt Patricia as his offensive coordinator in their second season, especially with a receiver group that rarely got open and an offensive line that dramatically regressed.

Time will tell to see if Jones will get another opportunity, but not many quarterbacks get another chance to start if they are traded after just three years into their rookie contract.

2019: (32) N’Keal Harry, Wide Receiver from Arizona State

Because the Patriots had won the Super Bowl in 2018, they landed with the very last pick in the first round of the NFL Draft. Nobody knew what to expect when they drafted Arizona State receiver N’Keal Harry, but after a few strong seasons with the program, there was more upside than downside at the time.

Unfortunately, he injured his ankle in the preseason and missed the first half of the regular season, so it would be more than a while for him to start his first game in the NFL. When he did return, he showed flashes that gave a lot of Patriots fans hope. He had a great physical frame, an exceptional catching radius, and they even used him in the backfield a couple of times in short-yardage situations to pick up extra first downs. With Tom Brady as his quarterback, he only finished his rookie season with 12 receptions, but the talent was there.

But, once Brady left and Harry was called on for an even bigger role with the offense, he never lived up to the mantle. He only started nine games in his second season and totaled just over 300 yards and scored only twice. The following year, he was not even the third receiver on the depth chart, being usurped by Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, and Jakobi Meyers.

Harry eventually got traded to the Chicago Bears in the 2022 offseason, not even lasting three years with the Patriots. What makes this draft pick even worse is that some of the receivers taken after Harry ended up having tremendous impacts with their respective organizations. That includes A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf, and Deebo Samuel. Harry is currently on the Minnesota Vikings as a practice squad player, and it is safe to say that this was not the right pick for the New England Patriots. While he had the talent that could have made him a successful player in the NFL, he never fit the scheme that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had in place, and Harry just did not have the athleticism like many of the other receivers in his draft class.

2018: (23) Isaiah Wynn, Tackle from Georgia

Just like the Cole Strange pick in 2022, drafting a tackle in the 2018 offseason was a big need for the Patriots at the time. Although they had a reliable starter on the right side in Marcus Cannon, New England also parted ways with their long-time blindside blocker Nate Solder, who signed a ridiculous contract with the New York Giants.

Offensive linemen drafted in the first round are always tricky to evaluate, but for somebody who was a consistent starter on a National Championship contending team in his time with the Georgia Bulldogs, Isaiah Wynn was seen as a potential staple in a very similar situation. Any time that Tom Brady is the quarterback and a player gets to develop into a dominant-style offense, that prospect is expected to step right up and not set the team back.

Unfortunately, not only did he underachieve at multiple positions on the line, Wynn could never stay healthy during his time with the Patriots. He missed his entire rookie season due to a torn Achilles, played only nine games in his second year, ten games in his third, and just nine in year five. They also tried switching him around at multiple positions.

He was mainly drafted as a left tackle, but then got moved over to guard for a short period of time, and then ultimately switched to the right side of the line when the Patriots signed Trent Brown in 2021. After his fifth season, Wynn explored all of his options and signed with the Miami Dolphins, mainly as a backup but also as a reliable depth option. It would be unfair to say that Isaiah Wynn was a total bust because there were games in which he showed you tremendous upside and ability. The main issue was that he could never stay healthy, which ended up setting his career back further and further.

2018: (31) Sony Michel, Running Back from Georgia

Everybody knows that drafting a running back in the first round is always a high-risk move for an organization, but the New England Patriots saw promise in Georgia running back Sony Michel. Despite overcoming serious knee injuries in the past, he shined in that year’s Rose Bowl with 181 yards on just 11 carries, scoring three touchdowns that included the walk-off to win the game 54-48 against the Oklahoma Sooners.

Expected to be the focal running back for the Patriots, Michel blossomed in his rookie season. He totaled over 930 yards and scored six touchdowns in the regular season, but where he shined most was the playoffs. What many will not remember about the sixth Super Bowl run was that Michel was the main X factor and unsung hero. It all started with a three-touchdown performance against the Los Angeles Chargers, followed up by a two-touchdown night in the AFC Championship against the Kansas City Chiefs, and then capped it off by scoring the only touchdown in Super Bowl 53 that won New England the game against the Los Angeles Rams.

In all three of those games, Michel rushed for over 90 yards and did more than enough to earn a ring in his first season in the NFL. In 2019, he picked up where he left off and had another 900+ yard season on the ground, so Michel was on pace to become a transcendent face of that offense. Unfortunately, his third season with the team ended up being his last.

An abundance of injuries plus the rise of second-year running back Damien Harris saw Michel fall off the depth chart. During the 2021 preseason, he was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Rams, where he won another Super Bowl but only started nine games for them.

Michel retired in the summer of 2023 at the age of 33 years old. Even though the draft pick did not work out for the New England Patriots, Sony Michel was a player who was always productive when he was on the field. The problem was that he was never healthy and the more time he missed, the shorter his career became. However, Patriots fans cannot thank him enough for how big of a contribution he made during that sixth championship run, because who knows how New England would have done without him powering up the backfield?


Why mention those five players? Well, it is because drafting offense in the first round has not always worked for this organization. Obviously, there have been exceptions such as Nate Solder and Logan Mankins, but the last five that were mentioned have not been able to mark a consistent impact as expected when they were drafted.

Whether they draft Drake Maye or Jayden Daniels with the third overall pick this year, not only does he need to put this team back on the map, but the New England front office needs to do everything in their power to make sure that he is not another failed project by giving him as much help as possible.

Main Image: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

5 2 votes
Do you agree with this article? Let's see your vote!
5 2 votes
Do you agree with this article? Let's see your vote!
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x