For as much as people love to talk about and/or lament the New England Patriots taking one man's trash and making it their treasure, here's a sneaky key to their 15-year-and-counting dynasty that balances out the "Trader Bill" deals that make us all want to spike our iPhones - the Patriots stick with their draft picks, even after a rough year or two, and for every Aaron Dobson or Ras-I Dowling, there's a Tedy Bruschi or Asante Samuel that eventually turned into a BAMF.
(There's a Cyrus Jones joke in here somewhere.)
And out of the four teams left in the playoffs - Pittsburgh, New England, Green Bay, and Atlanta - the Patriots' willingness to go through the growing pains with their draft picks and undrafted guys stands out in spades when you see that more than two out of every three players are homegrown - which, ahem, was pointed out earlier this year when Marcus Cannon became a very, very rich man - are the types of guys that the Patriots usually end up signing to deals with lots of zeroes at the end of them.
Between those four teams left in the conference championships, only the Packers boast more players on their roster that are still with the organization that drafted/signed them.
The MMQB's Albert Breer did a deep dive into how each team still in the Super Bowl hunt built their team on Thursday, and found that the Patriots have 37 players on the roster that were drafted by New England or signed as UDFAs. Out of those 37, which is more than two-thirds of a 53-man roster, 27 were Bill Belichick draft picks, and the other 10 were signed after going undrafted, like that Malcolm Butler guy.
Breer also makes the point that "...the Patriots' high percentage of homegrown talent belies the fact that half of their first-round draft picks since 2012 are on other rosters", which sounds a bit depressing when it's put that way, but hey, when you're right, you're right.
Then an anonymous AFC coach laid out why this approach works and allows the Patriots to approach free agency looking for value players instead of going all Miami Dolphins or dream-team Eagles:
"Talent doesn't win; talent in the right places, coached right, motivated right gives you the best opportunity," said the AFC head coach. "The most talented player might not be the best guy for your football team. The right fit is the right guy for your team. Nobody does this better than Belichick."
"It's not about talent with him, it's about fit. You can be the most talented guy, you might not fit what he wants to do, and he's gonna pass you by. The teams (remaining), I don't think they really care what other teams think."
Belichick's made this approach sustainable by basically playing the draft as if it were a game of roulette, which explains the constant trading down that occasionally frustrates the heck out of just about every Patriots fan. Since the math shows the draft is more often than not about luck than grades and scouting and 40 times, it makes more sense to stock up on as many picks as you can get and hope to hit it big when the odds finally break in your favor.
That approach isn't the only reason New England is going into their sixth consecutive AFC Championship Game this Sunday, but it sure as heck is a big part of it.
It's how New England, for the past 15 years, hasn't had to rebuild - just reload.