Super Bowl XLIX  

 

New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks built through NFL draft

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It's no coincidence that the NFL teams that enjoy the most long-term success also consistently knock the ball out of the park on draft weekend. Championship squads traditionally build through the draft, taking a cost-efficient approach toward sustainable contention by effectively developing their prospects. Consider that the two teams getting set to face off in Super Bowl XLIX are among the NFL leaders in total draft picks since 2010: the Seahawks have made 48 selections (tied for the most in the league), while the Patriots have logged 44 (tied for seventh-most).

As Super Bowl Sunday approaches, I thought I would take a good look at how these teams have drafted over the past five years -- and why they're poised to continue thriving for some time. First, let's take a quick glance at the various selections made by each team in this time period:

Now, here's my take on each squad's past five draft hauls, complete with letter grades for each class:

2010 DRAFT

New England Patriots

The Patriots landed a trio of blue-chippers in safety Devin McCourty and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Gronkowski and Hernandez helped the Patriots usher in a new offensive approach with multiple formations from "12" packages (one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers). With the pair shining from a variety of spots on the field, the Patriots were able to help Tom Brady continue to play at a high level from the pocket. (Obviously, Hernandez's life has since come apart in absolutely shocking fashion, as he's currently in jail facing murder charges.) McCourty quickly developed into a top-rate player, making the Pro Bowl as a rookie. He's shown the instincts, awareness and versatility that coach Bill Belichick covets in a defensive back. Linebacker Brandon Spikes was a key contributor prior to his departure as a free agent in 2014. Grade: B+

Seattle Seahawks

It's uncommon for a team to land four future Pro Bowl players in a single draft, but the Seahawks pulled off that feat when they selected safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, left tackle Russell Okung and receiver Golden Tate in 2010. As the founding fathers of the "Legion of Boom," Thomas and Chancellor have created a new standard of play at their position. More importantly, they've anchored a defense that is arguably one of the best in NFL history. Although Tate has moved on to Detroit, he provided the Seahawks with an explosive element in the passing game during his tenure. Walter Thurmond -- who is now with the Giants -- was a solid nickel corner during his time with Seattle, which is exactly the sort of production team officials desire from Day 3 prospects. Grade: A+

2011 DRAFT

New England Patriots

The Patriots didn't land any superstars in this class, but they did add a number of solid players with the versatility, intelligence and toughness that Belichick demands. Running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen have formed a potent 1-2 punch in the backfield at times, with each bringing unique styles to the table. (Ridley is a power runner with a 1,263-yard season under his belt, while Vereen is one of the best receiving backs in the game, with 107 career catches.) Nate Solder has developed into an upper-echelon left tackle after spending his first season contributing as a "Jumbo" tight end in run-heavy sets. Offensive lineman Marcus Cannon has been a valued backup at multiple positions. Grade: B

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks' development of their late-round picks has been one of the keys to their success. The 2011 class is a perfect example of their ability to get their prospects ready to fill key roles. Fifth-round pick Richard Sherman has blossomed into the top cover corner in the NFL. Linebackers K.J. Wright (fourth round) and Malcolm Smith (seventh) and cornerback Byron Maxwell (sixth) have been solid players throughout their careers, with Smith earning Super Bowl MVP honors for his efforts in last year's title game. Grade: B+

2012 DRAFT

New England Patriots

Again, the Patriots didn't land any superstars, but they did grab a handful of solid guys with skills ideally suited for the team's scheme. Defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont'a Hightower added some athleticism, physicality and toughness to a defense that desperately needed playmakers among the front seven. Safety Tavon Wilson and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard -- who was placed on injured reserve last month -- have logged starts and have continued to contribute as interchangeable defenders in the Patriots' sub-packages. Grade: B

Seattle Seahawks

General manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll initially faced heavy criticism for this group, but it's obvious that the Seahawks are enjoying the last laugh now. Not only has third-rounder Russell Wilson emerged as a franchise player, but he is squarely in the conversation about the best signal-callers in the NFL. Linebacker Bobby Wagner is the monster in the middle of the Seahawks' nasty defense, with linebacker Bruce Irvin and cornerback Jeremy Lane also playing key roles as situational playmakers. Add in offensive lineman J.R. Sweezy, who is also contributing as a starter, and the Seattle brass clearly deserves significant credit for its foresight and ability to develop this class. Grade: A

2013 DRAFT

New England Patriots

The Patriots knocked it out of the park with the selection of Jamie Collins in the second round. The multi-talented linebacker has developed into a dynamic playmaker capable of snuffing out tight ends on the perimeter or harassing quarterbacks in the pocket as a crafty rusher on blitzes. Logan Ryan has shown intriguing skills and potential, but he needs a little more seasoning before becoming a full-time starter at corner. Receiver Aaron Dobson hasn't played up to expectations; he finished 2014 on injured reserve. Grade: C+

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks drafted so well in previous years that they were able to focus their efforts on finding quality backups in 2013. Looking at the development of tight end Luke Willson, cornerback Tharold Simon, running back Christine Michael and defensive tackle Jordan Hill, it's clear the team has acquired talented players with the potential to fill in as starters when the situation merits. Willson and Simon, in particular, have been effective in their respective roles; their ability to make plays despite inexperience has helped key the Seahawks' run to Super Bowl XLIX. Grade: C+

2014 DRAFT

New England Patriots

The Patriots haven't received major contributions from defensive tackle Dominique Easley (who ended the season on injured reserve) and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, but the team should be optimistic about the futures of both players, based on their impressive flashes in limited action. Center Bryan Stork's insertion into the starting lineup solidified the offensive line this season, while Cameron Fleming has been a key contributor as the "Jumbo" tight end on the Patriots' unbalanced line packages. James White didn't crack the running back rotation as a rookie, but he could be a valuable spot player down the road. Grade: C

Seattle Seahawks

It can be tough for rookies to find a place on a roster chock-full of homegrown stars playing key roles. That certainly appears to apply to the Seahawks' 2014 class, as only receiver Paul Richardson and right tackle Justin Britt saw significant playing time this season. To their credit, each player showed enough talent and potential to warrant a starter's job down the line, which is exactly what team officials expect from Day 2 prospects. Grade: C+

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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