People could argue all day whether Tom Brady or Bill Belichick played a larger role in the Patriots' success without reaching a clear conclusion. Let's agree they were fortunate to have one another, so long as you also agree the Patriots' success came from a combination of pure genius and dumb luck.
Brady is the best example of the latter. The greatest quarterback in NFL history was a sixth-round pick, selected 199th overall in 2000. All that says five Super Bowls and 18 years later was that the Patriots made the same mistake as the other 29 teams that passed on him for the first five rounds.
New England didn't have a first-round pick that year, but it selected six players – Adrian Klemm, J.R Redmond, Greg Randall, Dave Stachelski, Jeff Marriott and Antwan Harris – before Brady. They will forever have a claim to fame while Brady has an eternal place waiting for him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The aforementioned six played 204 games combined – or 49 fewer than Brady, who has thrown for 66,159 yards and 488 touchdowns. New England hit the jackpot with Brady, but he didn't solve all problems. The Patriots' fortunes changed because they continued adding players in all rounds.
New England's first pick was 17th overall or lower nine times in 10 years between 2004-13. Those selections alone produced Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, Brandon Meriweather, Jerod Mayo, Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, Nate Solder, Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins.
The first six played more than 100 games in the NFL. The other three played at least 80 percent of games in which they were eligible. The other player was running back Laurence Maroney, who led the Pats in rushing in 2007 and helped them reach the Super Bowl. Their only pick in the top 16 was Jerod Mayo, who played 103 games.
Over the same period, New England added players who were their second pick or later and played key roles. They include Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley, Rob Gronowski, Brandon Spikes, Aaron Hernandez, Darius Butler, Brandon Tate, Julien Edelman, Stephen Gostkowski and Ben Watson.
In 2014, the Pats selected quarterback Jimmy Garopolo in the second round and James White in the fourth round. Garolpolo was expected to take over for Brady before he was traded to San Francisco with the idea he'll be a franchise QB. White helped the Patriots win two Super Bowls.
Keep that in mind this week.
No matter how the Bills handle their two picks in the first round Thursday, their performance in the final six rounds could make a greater impact on their short- and long-term future. The first round is actually usually the easiest. The real trick is finding impact players in later rounds.
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, who leads the NFL in catches (582) and yards (7,848) in the past five years, was a sixth-round pick. Richard Sherman was taken in the fifth-round by the Seahawks. Numerous other later-round picks are stars in the NFL: Russell Wilson, Brandon Marshall, Jared Allen, Dak Prescott.
The Hall of Fame could have a separate wing for players who were taken after the fifth round. The best days in Bills' history includes players selected in the fourth round or later who contributed to their success, such as Andre Reed (fourth round) and Howard Ballard (11th round).
Between 2004-13, the Bills had two players who played 100 games with them: Eric Wood and Kyle Williams. The others were either shipped out or had success with other teams. For the most part, Buffalo's picks in later rounds during that period became part of a vast wasteland in team history.
Thanks to the salary cap, it has become more important than ever for teams to find impact players in later rounds. Rookie contracts keep players at a reasonable price for four years. The best teams don't always have the most talent. They usually have the most players performing at elite levels for the right price.
It has defined Brady for years. It doesn't hurt having Belichick, either. The Patriots became the standard because they were lucky and good.
Aaron Judge has been breaking records with every homer, having been the fastest to 60 (in 197 games), 61 (199 games) and 62 homers (201 games) – and counting. Mark McGwire owned all three records, along with the mark for most homers in a season by a rookie that Judge broke last season.
The key for Judge is that he's no longer getting fooled by breaking balls on the outside corner or outside the strike zone. In late July and August last season, and again in the postseason, he fell into a slump while pitchers attacked him with high fastballs and breaking balls low and away.
Judge this year was batting .324 with six homers and 15 RBIs in his first 20 games. He also was leading the big leagues in walks (18), as he did last year (127). He has benefited from having Didi Gregorius and Giancarlo Stanton hitting behind him, but he's also getting more plate coverage and driving balls the other way.
By the way, he's making only $622,300 this year. It will change dramatically when he becomes eligible for salary arbitration after the 2019 season.
Dominating on one leg
It's always interesting when hockey season ends to find out what injuries players had and to what extent after they were kept secret. NHL players and coaches for years have offered only "upper body" or "lower body" when discussing their ailments.
Sean Couturier clearly suffered a leg injury after he and teammate Radko Gudas collided in practice last week while preparing for the Penguins. He was sidelined for Game Four and hobbled through in Game Five before returning for Game Six. In fact, he was nearly unstoppable.
Couturier had a hat trick and two assists, joining Toronto's Lanny McDonald as the only players to record five points in a playoff defeat after the Flyers were eliminated by the Penguins with an 8-5 loss. McDonald had four goals and an assist in a 6-5 overtime loss to Philly in 1977.
As it turned out Couturier was playing with a torn MCL, according to NBCSPhilly reporter John Boruk. Couturier told him he would have been sidelined for a month if he it happened during the regular season,
"I just tried to lay it all out there, and give it all I had," Couturier told reporters.
Perhaps it was a coincidence, but it was odd for St. Bonaventure freshman guard Izaiah Brockington to announce last week that he was leaving the program shortly before former Cheektowaga star Dominick Welch held a news conference to say he would be joining the Bonnies.
Brockington was an athletic guard who played important minutes late in the season while the Bonnies won 13 straight games and earned an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. He was certain to take another step next season with the departures of seniors Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley.
Brockington had shown no signs that he was looking for the exit and did not elaborate when thanking his coaches, teammates and fans on Twitter. The most popular theory suggested he had a difficult time adjusting to life in the Southern Tier and wanted to get closer to his home in Philadelphia.
It's equally possible he feared Welch, a 6-6 swingman who can score, would eat up minutes on the wing while senior Nelson Kaputo ran the point. Welch is two inches taller and a better shooter. In fact, his presence figured to open the lane for Brockington. Welch could get more playing time than he expected.
Arsene Wenger, manager of the Arsenal in Premier League soccer for 22 years, on his decision to step down after the season with fans and media calling for his dismissal: "I do not want to make stupid headlines."
132 – Playoff victories in a career by Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the most for any duo in history, after the Spurs beat the Warriors on Sunday night.
61 – Career playoff games in which LeBron James had led his team in points, rebounds and assists after lifting the Cavaliers over the Pacers on Sunday night.
100 – Career playoff games in which LeBron has scored 30 points or more, making him second behind Michael Jordan (109) to reach the century mark.
It's unlikely due to the Giants, but this could become the first year since 1999 that quarterbacks were selected in the first three picks. The Browns took Tim Couch, the Eagles grabbed Donovan McNabb and Cincinnati selected Akili Smith. All three teams believed they added franchise QBs. Only one was right.
Keep an eye on former Bona star David Vanterpool, who is emerging as a candidate to become an NBA head coach. He has been an assistant coach on a good Portland team since 2012. His name has been tossed around mostly in Orlando, which has a vacancy after replacing Frank Vogel.
Hats off to the umpire working alone last week in a JV game between Frontier and Jamestown. He called the game from behind home plate rather than behind the pitcher. It's far more difficult to see balls and strikes from behind the mound than to see plays on the bases from behind the plate. Many didn’t notice he was alone.