While we’re still celebrating perhaps the most satisfying Super Bowl in Patriots history, it’s time to consider moving on to 2017. The Patriots will be trying to catch up to the Pittsburgh Steelers for most Super Bowls with 6. Part of the offseason includes the draft, a favorite topic for football fans from February to April. The Patriots seem to be unpredictable by the national media due to the talking heads not having much of a clue on how the Patriots run things. In reality, the problem is they aren’t really trying to be accurate and they’re rather click-baiting.
Last year, five years of soaking up knowledge from this page, Twitter, and NE Patriots Draft, I lucked out in guessing the Patriots 2016 draft. The things I’ve learned is the Patriots don’t address immediate needs, but rather look to address needs that are likely to pop up in the future and have a young player with a couple years in the system replacing a veteran. Free agency will determine how the Patriots attack the draft, so I’m going to hold off until mid-April until the mock drafts start.
The Patriots draft strategy is rather quite easy to figure out, if you know where to look. These are guidelines for looking up names in the draft.
- Look at programs the Patriots have consistently tapped into: The Patriots have consistently tapped into Alabama’s program and with a lot of draft prospects on that defense heading into the NFL, I wouldn’t be surprised if BB adds another Bama product to his defense. The Patriots have also gone heavy in the SEC of late, adding WR Malcolm Mitchell, CB Jonathan Jones, C David Andrews in addition to their Alabama draft picks. So the first place I’d look for in terms of draft picks are players from Alabama and players who had solid games against them. Belichick keeps close tabs with his former assistants, most notably Saban. A quick Google search will help you find Belichick assistants that are currently in the college game.
- Teammates or opponents of recent Patriots draftees: The Patriots also take input from players who competed with some of their recent draft picks. For example, the Patriots added Kamu Grugier-Hill in the 6th round, who played safety for Eastern Illinois and was a teammate of QB Jimmy Garoppolo there. The Patriots added Andrews as an UDFA before drafting Mitchell a year later. Another element to consider is the players they compete against. It could be the man a recent Patriots draftee went against every day in practice or a player he competed against in games. An example would be Cyrus Jones and Malcolm Mitchell in the 2014 and 2015 college seasons.
- High character guys go higher: The Patriots head coach is quoted saying, “Talent sets the floor, character sets the ceiling”. Perhaps no player better exemplifies it than Tom Brady, but his draft day was 17 years ago. The Patriots might not always go for the most talented guy when we look at another draftnik’s Big Board, especially mine, but the team prefers players who are willing to go the extra mile to be better. In 2016, I was high on the Patriots drafting Cyrus Jones and Malcolm Mitchell because of their character. Mitchell has overcome adversity with injuries and has worked tirelessly in college and his rookie year in the NFL to become the best player he can be. Belichick has been burned with players that don’t necessarily have high character in Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins, and Dominique Easley of late. I’d much rather have guys like Malcolm Mitchell and Julian Edelman, guys who might not be the most talented, but they outwork everyone.
- Patriots value versatility: The more you can do, the more you opponent has to account for. Belichick values versatility over ability because his style is multiplicity. Special teams, ability to play both sides of the ball if necessary, and the ability to handle different assignments are the things the Patriots are looking for. For CBs and WRs, they like guys who can play in the slot or on the boundary and if they can add value as a return man, even better. The Patriots like linebackers that not only can line up off the ball, but can rotate in on the edge and attack the ball from there. That’s why we see a lot of converted edge rushers with a lot of athleticism moved off the ball.
- Patriots will trade: While Belichick can be unpredictable during the draft, things we can count on is Belichick moving around the board the way he sees fit. In 2016, he flipped the 61st pick received from the Chandler Jones for the 78th and 112th pick. That trade turned into LG Joe Thuney and WR Malcolm Mitchell, two young and critical cogs to the Patriots Super Bowl championship team. Projecting a trade can be difficult even if you know he’s going to do it at least once, some situations seem more likely given once the board develops. With the Patriots holding the 32nd pick, a trade down to the 2nd round seems likely if the top talent is taken. No one is better at maneuvering the draft board than Belichick.
I’ll be starting the prospect profiles for the NFL Draft next week. Hopefully I’m able to do about 40-50 players who I think have a high chance of going to the Patriots in the draft. We’re already past the Senior Bowl and the Super Bowl drawing attention away from that event in the Pulpit coverage.