The Patriots haven’t really swung and missed on a first-round pick in several years, but history tells us that when they’ve missed, they’ve missed badly. Here’s our list of the five worst first-round picks in franchise history:
Andy Katzenmoyer. Taken 28th overall in 1999, Katzenmoyer brought a Brian Bosworthian level of hype to Foxborough. There were high hopes for Katzenmoyer in New England — the winner of the Butkus Award, it was thought he could bring a new brand of toughness to the middle linebacker spot. Checking in at 6-foot-3 and 264 pounds when he was drafted, the Patriots Pro Shop couldn’t put out Katzenmoyer jerseys fast enough.
“Most rookies try to impress everybody by running hard the first time they run,” Patriots defensive lineman Chad Eaton told reporters after watching Katzenmoyer run sprints for the first time. “Katzenmoyer just smoked everybody. He sat down for a while afterward and then got ready to do it a second time. Well, he does it even better the second time. Afterward, he’s a little winded and he says, ‘I’m a little out of shape.’ It’s great. I think this guy is really going to help us.”
But Katzenmoyer turned out to be nothing more than a colossal disappointment. He suffered a neck injury as a rookie after a helmet-to-helmet hit with Buffalo running back Sam Gash, which forced him to have surgery and miss the entire 2000 season. Then, Katzenmoyer made headlines when he abruptly walked out of training camp in 2001 without telling anyone. The Patriots put him on injured reserve for the rest of the 2001 season, and cut him before the start of the 2002 campaign. He finished with 101 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and one interception. At last check, he was attending classes in Otterbein College in Ohio, and seems to have made peace with his time in the NFL.
“My life is so regular,” Katzenmoyer told the New York Times last September. “It’s so bizarre to think back 8 or 10 years ago and how my life has changed. What’s most strange is that I’m happier now living a normal life than I was back playing football.”
Guys the Patriots drafted after him: Kevin Faulk (second round out of Louisiana State), Sean Morey (seventh-round out of Brown)
Chris Canty. Selected with the 29th overall pick of the 1997 draft out of Kansas State, Canty was known more for his ability to bust a move than breaking up pass plays. The 5-foot-9, 195-pound defensive back loved to celebrate even the tiniest of triumphs, breaking out into a dance routine at the drop of a hat.
“He does have an attitude about him, and he knows how to deal with it,” Patriots coach Pete Carroll told reporters the day New England drafted Canty. “He has a little bit of a swagger about him. He has a great deal of confidence that is a necessary ingredient for a great corner. We’ve seen him match up and take on the opponent’s toughest receiver time and time again. To us that attitude is a plus as long as he doesn’t go overboard with it.”
Unfortunately for New England, his ego didn’t match his skills. He spent some time on special teams as a returner, but never amounted to much. Ultimately, Canty spent just two seasons in New England before he made brief stops in Seattle (1998-2000) and New Orleans (2000). In 58 career games in the NFL, he had four interceptions, one of which came with New England. After spending a few years out of the game, Canty got back in via the Arena Football League. He played for Las Vegas of the AFL in 2005, and Rio Grande Valley of af2 from 2006 through 2008.
That danceable swagger? By 2005, it was long gone.
“Everybody’s ultimate goal is to play in the NFL, but I just want to play ball,” Canty told reporters in 2005 before he stepped on the field for Vegas. “[They] gave me an opportunity to come out here and play, so I’m taking advantage of it.”
Guys the Patriots drafted after him: It was a truly miserable draft for the Patriots. Only defensive tackle Brandon Mitchell (second round out of Texas A&M) ended up having any sort of extended success in the NFL, playing eight seasons in the league and starting for the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI ... before getting busted on drug charges last December.
Eugene Chung. The 13th overall pick in 1992, the 6-foot-4, 295-pound offensive lineman became the first Korean-American to be taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. He was part of one of the worst stretches in franchise history — his teams won just eight games in the two-plus years he was in a Patriots uniform. Chung wasn’t awful, but certainly wasn’t worth a first-round pick. He did deliver some positional versatility — as a rookie, he started 14 games at right guard, and also spent time at right tackle. He switched over to left guard and started 16 games in 1993.
In 1994, Bill Parcells came on board, and Chung’s days were numbered. Bob Kratch, a Parcells favorite, replaced him at left guard. After playing just three games in 1994, he moved on to Jacksonville (1995) and Indianapolis (1997) before calling it a career. According to reports, he recently resurfaced in the Jaguars’ scouting department as an intern, with an eye toward reentering the NFL in the personnel end of the business.
Guys the Patriots drafted after him: Linebacker Todd Collins (third round), running back Kevin Turner (third round), running back Sam Gash (eighth round).
Hart Lee Dykes. Taken 16th overall in 1989, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound wide receiver out of Oklahoma State actually had a good start to his career with 49 catches for 795 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie. Patriots fans were starved for star power in the late 1980s, and Dykes provided a small measure of flash. He was quick, and tucked large towels into the back of his game pants with Magic Marker messages on them like SEE YA, I’M GONE and TOO LATE.
But things went south from there — he got involved in a bar room brawl with teammate Irving Fryar that resulted in an eye injury, and would also fracture his kneecap. Ultimately, he would play the better part of two years in New England and end up with 83 receptions for 1,344 yards and seven touchdowns. Decent numbers, but hardly worthy of a first-round selection.
(Dykes is better known for his college career, which began when he put his college career up for bid between Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Illinois and Texas A&M. As a result of their pursuit of Dykes, all four different schools landed on probation. While at OSU, he played alongside Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas. In addition, this guy was his quarterback. According to multiple outlets, he currently owns a trucking company in Sugarland, Texas.)
Guys the Patriots drafted after him: Tight end Marv Cook (third round), defensive back Maurice Hurst (fourth round), wide receiver Michael Timpson (fourth round).
Dennis Byrd. A defensive tackle out of North Carolina State, the Patriots used the sixth overall pick of the 1968 draft on the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Byrd. But this was back in the dark ages of the draft, so when Patriots coach Mike Holovak gathered the media around the table to give Byrd a call, he didn’t know he’d get a surprise. Holovak put it on speakerphone, and dialed the number. Byrd didn’t answer, but Holovak asked the person who answered if they knew how to reach Byrd. “The hospital,” came the reply. “He’s just had a knee operation.” Byrd spent just one year with the Patriots, starting all 14 games at left defensive end for a team that finished the season 4-10.
Christopher Price covers the Patriots for WEEI.com.