A New England Patriots Tale of Yore...

Aside from the Super Bowl, Draft Day is the single most important day of the year for teams in the NFL. Because of the restrictive rules on free agency in pro football, the selections made in the collegiate draft will determine whether the team becomes a championship franchise or a cellar dweller. Because of this, thousands of hours are spent each year breaking down film, scouting collegiate players, attending combines, and working deals with other teams. Players' stocks rise and fall as off-the-field attitudes come to life, heights and weights are accurately measured, and forty times get quicker.

The experts will tell you that everyone taken after the first round is a risk. Players like Ben Coates and Terrell Davis were low round picks who became All-Pros at their positions, but for the most part, the later picks are role players and backups. It's the first-rounders who are considered gold, the players who will be cornerstones of the franchise for years to come. First round picks are looked upon differently than the rest -- it's not OK for them to fail. Like all other players, however, choosing the right one is a crap shoot, and for a long time, the New England Patriots were shooting snake eyes.

The Patriots first round draft pick list is littered with no-name players and missed opportunities. In the 1983 draft, the greatest quarterback draft of all time, one that produced John Elway and Jim Kelly, the Patriots ended up with Tony Eason. The Pats drafted Irving Fryar with the number one pick overall in 1984, then traded their other first round pick to San Francisco, who used it to pick Jerry Rice. Rice became the greatest wide receiver of all time. Fryar never played to his potential until he found God... well after he joined the Miami Dolphins. The carnage continued as the team picked Chris Singleton and Ray Agnew instead of Junior Seau and Cortez Kennedy in 1990 and promising rookie seasons by Hart Lee Dykes (1989) and John Stephens (1988) were followed by disappointing performances and injury-plagued careers.

Aside from the 1973 draft of John Hannah, Sam "Bam" Cunningham, and Darryl Stingley, and the 1987 selection of Bruce Armstrong, the Patriots first round picks had produced few players of any substance. The tables would turn once Bill Parcells and Bob Kraft righted the sails of the franchise, but not before the Patriots made what many consider one of the worst draft selections ever. Thus begins our story...

The early nineties were years of turmoil for the Patriots. Team owner James B. Orthwein made negotiations to move the team to St. Louis. Stadium owner Bob Kraft argued over who should pay for the replacement of the field's artificial turf with real grass. Boston Herald reporter Lisa Olsen sued the team for sexual harassment after a locker room incident. The team went through three coaches in four years, never keeping any consistent group in place to evaluate talent, and never finishing about .500. They finished the 1991 season 6-10, earning the seventh pick in the upcoming draft. With draft day a mere FIVE MONTHS AWAY, the Patriots sat down to devise a draft strategy.

The Patriots evaluated their current roster. At quarterback, Hugh Millen, who finished the previous season with twice as many interceptions as touchdowns. At running back, an injured Leonard Russell, who took over for the inept John Stephens and averaged less than four yards per carry. At wide receiver, an aging Irving Fryar, who caught only three touchdown passes in 1991 and had just turned 30. And then there was the defense, which was ranked dead last against the pass. After assessing the talent on the roster, the Patriots decided that their best draft strategy was to select.... an offensive lineman.

Some say this was the first mistake. Others later speculated that because the 1992 draft was so deep with offensive lineman, the Patriots went with an OL because there was no way they could screw it up. And indeed it was a deep draft, as OLs like Leon Searcy, John Fina, and Ray Roberts were all coming out. Draft analysts like Mel Kiper, Jr. speculated that as many as seven offensive linemen could go in the first round. The Patriots were certain to get a solid player, maybe someone to bookend Bruce Armstrong and produce one of the NFLs best lines. So sure of their strategy were the Patriots, they decided they didn't need the seventh pick, and traded it away for number nineteen.

By trading down to number nineteen, the Patriots picked up some extra picks in the later rounds, and still figured they could get the player they wanted further down the board. Surely there was no need to keep the seventh pick! When the Dolphins picked cornerback Troy Vincent with pick number seven, all of the offensive linemen were still available. The Patriots were set! With the eighth pick in the draft, the Atlanta Falcons selected offensive lineman Bob Whitfield of Stanford. No big deal. Still plenty of talent on the board. The Browns picked a running back with the eighth pick, and everything seemed fine. Then the Seahawks picked Ray Roberts from Virginia. And the Steelers picked Leon Searcy from the University of Miami. The Patriots panicked! All of the good offensive linemen would be gone! What could they do? Frantically, they hit the telephones in an attempt to move up. New England managed to get back up to thirteen, setting the stage for the one of the worst sentences in Patriots history...

With the thirteenth pick... in the 1992 Draft... the New England Patriots select... Eugene Chung... from Virginia Tech...

Eugene Chung. He was overweight, and not in a Gilbert-Brown-can't-get-around-me good way. Compared to the other linemen in the draft, he wasn't very strong, he wasn't very fast, he couldn't block very well. He had been labelled a project. Mel Kiper, Jr. sat stunned, unable to conjure any explanation for the Patriots decision. The broadcast analysts stammered as film of Chung rolled on ESPN. The Patriots had traded down... then traded back up... to select a player that no one would have selected in the first round... and ended up with fewer picks and a worse draft position than they started with.

Chung was signed to seven teams (Pats, Eagles, Chiefs, Colts, Packers, 49ers, and Jaguars) before finally giving it up. Of the fourteen other players the Patriots drafted that year, only linebackers Todd Collins and Dwayne Sabb got any significant playing time in the NFL. Chung, however, is seen by many as the worst first round pick in Patriots history, not because of his impact or talent, but because of the circumstances surrounding his selection.

The Patriots finished the 1992 season with a 2-14 mark, after which Parcells was hired to coach the team and select player personnel. After the most abyssmal draft in team history, Parcells dumped most of the team's dead weight and drafted Drew Bledsoe, Chris Slade, Todd Rucci, Vincent Brisby, and Troy Brown in 1993, turning the franchise around.

Never again would there be another Eugene Chung....

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