FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When the No. 29 pick is on the clock during the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday night, the sting will be felt across New England.
A talented, cost-effective, high-upside prospect who could have been Patriots-bound won’t be selected by Bill Belichick at No. 29, a result of the NFL stripping the team’s first-round pick as part of Deflategate penalties.
It’s an obvious blow to the franchise, and barring an unexpected trade into the first round, the Patriots won’t select in the opening round for the fourth time in Belichick’s 16 drafts.
But it’s not a setback the New England Patriots can’t overcome, as evidenced by the three other drafts under Belichick that they didn’t pick in the first round -- 2000, 2009 and 2013.
In 2000, when the first-rounder went to the New York Jets as part of the compensation for hiring Belichick, the draft transformed the franchise because of the selection of quarterback Tom Brady in the sixth round (199th overall).
There’s obviously some good fortune involved with that turn of events, with then-vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli once saying that if the Patriots knew what Brady would become they wouldn’t have waited so long. But the point is that impact players still come beyond Round 1.
“There’s depth throughout the entire draft, you can really find players all the way from round one through seven,” Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said last week. “Other teams have done it. We’ve done it through the years.”
In 2009, the Patriots traded out of the first round to stockpile picks, and ended up with safety Patrick Chung (who didn’t truly emerge until a second stint with the team in 2014), longtime starting offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer and receiver Julian Edelman.
Not bad for a year without a first-rounder.
And then there was ’13, when the club traded out of the No. 29 spot in exchange for second-, third-, fourth- and seventh-round picks that were linebacker Jamie Collins, cornerback Logan Ryan, receiver Josh Boyce and running back LeGarrette Blount (the team traded the seventh-rounder for him).
That’s impressive, with Belichick saying the team probably would have taken Collins at 29 if they didn’t make the deal (they got him at 52 anyway).
So all is not lost for the Patriots in this year’s draft, as they have 11 overall selections -- with their best assets coming in the form of multiple picks in the second (60, 61) and third (91, 96) rounds.
In 2014, the Carolina Panthers drafted defensive end Kony Ealy at No. 60, and his performance in the Super Bowl 50 loss to the Denver Broncos was about as good as it gets. Two years earlier, the Baltimore Ravens nailed it with offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele (he's since cashed in with a big free-agent deal in Oakland), and two years before that, the Seattle Seahawks struck gold with receiver Golden Tate.
There are good players available at 60, just as there are at 61.
The Jacksonville Jaguars nabbed receiver Allen Robinson at No. 61 in 2014, and the year before that, running back Eddie Lacy went to the Green Bay Packers at that spot. In 2009, it was cornerback Sean Smith to the Miami Dolphins and in 2008, tight end Martellus Bennett to the Dallas Cowboys.
So while losing the first-round pick at No. 29 hurts the Patriots, as history reveals this is far from a doomsday scenario.