FOXBORO — The recent evidence incriminates Nick Caserio, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots personnel people.
Brandon Tate, third-round pick in 2009 ... Bust.
Darius Butler, second-rounder same year ... Again, a waste.
And Brandon Meriweather, first-rounder in 2007 ... Gone, and all but forgotten.
Doubt has crept into folks in these parts, even the most ardent backers.
Has Belichick — the guy who solidified a melting defense for a near decade in 2001 with Richard Seymour and changed the way we look at football by culling a sixth-round gem out of the 2000 draft in Tom Brady — lost something off his draft fastball?
Belichick's pre-2011 season-opening bombs not withstanding, the numbers don't speak to some mystery demise.
A look at four teams' draft choices from the 2005-2010 —the Pats, Colts, Steelers and Eagles — yielded rousingly even numbers (See graphic) as it pertains to who is finding the players and who is firing blanks.
The teams were chosen for comparison because of their consistent winning ways.
They are the power programs people speak about over the last decade or so with lasting systems in place.
Constant winners replenish less, meaning these teams share minimum needs.
And all, over the stretch, had a premier quarterback in place — Philly had a pair with Donovan McNabb then Mike Vick.
Bill Polian's track record with Indy, Carolina and Buffalo is flawless. The Pittsburgh Steelers and their system, replacing Pro Bowl free agents through the draft with relative ease, kept them at the top of the game.
And Andy Reid in Philadelphia has been the mark of stability.
The four clubs share two distinct, different draft strategies, with the Pats and the Eagles tending to back-pedal and stockpile, dealing for value picks along the way.
Meanwhile, Indy and Pittsburgh tended to stay where they were more often, making fewer selections.
Typical with winning franchises, all four have been extremely productive in the top two rounds. Yes, even the Patriots with their recent issues.
Seven of the Pats' 10 drafted current starters — Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Spikes, Pat Chung, Sebastian Vollmer, Jerod Mayo and Logan Mankins — were top two-rounders.
Philly matched the Pats at seven, while Pittsburgh had six players in that category and Indy five.
Each franchise has enjoyed the major coup or two, as well, landing the major prize deep into Day 3 of the draft.
The Pats will showcase their fourth-round gem of 2010, tight end Aaron Hernandez, tomorrow night in the season-opener at Miami.
Willie Colon (4th in 2006) and Chris Kemoeatu (6th in 2005) have piled up nearly 100 starts on the Steeler offensive line.
Philly tight end Brent Celek ranks among the best in the game at his craft in spite of his selection in the fifth round of the 2007 draft. And Indy defensive back Antoine Bethea has been a starter just about from the first day he set foot in camp, coming out if Howard in the sixth round in 2006.
If there is one chink in Belichick's armor, it comes as a product of his strategy.
Point to 2009, example, where Butler was grabbed in the second after the Pats had exhausted a another round 2 choice on Boston College defensive lineman Ron Brace.
Neither guy mattered here. Butler is now a Carolina Panther, and Brace, who was too big to play early last year, opens this year on the physically unable to perform list.
His status here remains tenuous at best.
"What a waste!" claim Belichick bashers. The fact is the coach, with his whealing and dealing, collected four second-round picks in 2009. He got two starters in safety Pat Chung and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer there.
You have to be happy with that.
But the busts — or at least picks that don't work out — tend to add up faster.
Belichick gambles. He rolled the dice on a guy like Tate in round 3. Coming out of North Carolina, Tate was one of the most talented players in the college game, only to be sidetracked by a leg injury.
The Patriots took a shot. They did it again this year with offensive lineman/cancer survivor Marcus Cannon.
When you have surplus picks, it's a luxury you can afford.
The bottom line is that Belichick still produces, and doubting the performance is still clearly a mistake.
Tapping top drafts, by the numbers
Since 2005, the four most consistent teams in the NFL record-wise have been the Patriots (63-17), Steelers (51-29), Colts (61-19) and Eagles (48-31-1).
Here's a look at how each model franchise has done in the draft, since 2005.
TeamStartersKey reservesEnd of rosterNo impact
Players still on the teams
TeamStartersKey reservesEnd of roster
Key: Starters — Legitimate NFL regular starting players; Key reserves — Useful subs and situational players, regulars on the 45-man gameday roster; End of roster — Players who barely survived the final cut and hung around without really seeing much of the field; No impact — Athletes who didn't make the team or never saw the field.
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