Cam Newton has struggled with the New England Patriots so far this season. While the former MVP hasn’t been good, he also doesn’t have much to work with. He’s certainly not the player he used to be, but Newton’s lack of success has a lot to do with Bill Belichick‘s failure to put decent players around him.
From a talent perspective, the Patriots have one of the worst offensive units in the NFL. On Sunday, Newton was throwing to a receiving corps that headline Damiere Byrd, Jakobi Meyers, Ryan Izzo and Isaiah Zuber. I know Belichick is legendary for mining talent from undervalued players, but that philosophy has its limits.
The Patriots have been beset by injuries, with Julian Edelman is out with a knee injury and N’Keal Harry dealing with a concussion. Even if those guys were healthy, New England would still have one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL.
Belichick had opportunities to upgrade his receiver group during in the 2020 NFL Draft, but he traded out of the 23rd pick in the first round to stockpile picks later. He then selected safety Kyle Dugger and linebacker Josh Uche in the second round, both are currently backups. In the third round, Belichick reached for two tight ends in Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene and took linebacker Anfernee Jennings. His next pick came in the fifth round and he took kicker Justin Rohrwasser who is currently on the practice squad. In a draft with a historically deep receiver class, the wideout-needy Patriots didn’t select one.
Dugger, Uche, Jennings, Asiasi and Keene may wind up making in impact down the road, but they’re not helping now.
It’s also worth remembering that during the 2019 season, Belichick sent a 2020 second-round pick to the Atlanta Falcons in exchange for Mohamed Sanu. The veteran receiver played eight games for the Patriots, failed to make an impact and was released before this season. That pick wound up being the 55th selection and the Baltimore Ravens selected running back J.K. Dobbins who has been great as a rookie. There were a number of good players available at that point in the draft and the Sanu trade looks like the worst Belichick has ever made.
It’s not a stretch to assume Tom Brady left New England thanks to lack of playmakers on offense. He bolted to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are positively loaded with offensive talent. Brady made the guys around him better in New England for years out of necessity. Eventually the team’s luck of rolling sevens on undervalued prospects was going to run out.
Part of New England’s problem is a salary cap crunch that hit this year that should be alleviated heading into 2021. But even so, Belichick has failed to add cheap playmakers through the draft in recent years. Since 2014, Belichick has only selected one receiver before the fourth round (Harry in 2019). In the same timeframe, he’s selected six defensive linemen and five defensive backs in the first three rounds. That’s a sure way to create an imbalanced roster.
You can’t blame Newton because Belichick failed to upgrade his playmakers. The way he ran the draft and free agency it felt like Belichick was punting on the 2020 season and building for the future. If that’s the case, it might be smart, but no one should judge Newton harshly when the front office didn’t make an effort to get better.