The New England Patriots are pretty secretive when it comes to the draft process, so it’s always interesting if they let something slip through the cracks. In the Patriots video of the decision room during the fourth round selection of Arkansas EDGE Deatrich Wise, we get a small, blurry glance at what I think might be the Patriots draft board stack.
What is the draft board stack? Well, let’s have Patriots head coach Bill Belichick explain.
"When you stack your board, you're going to look vertically,” Belichick said back in 2003, per ESPN’s Mike Reiss. “The way we do it, we look vertically by positions. Here's all the quarterbacks, here's all the tight ends, here's all the running backs.
"[Then] horizontally across the board, you try to get some kind of value of ... This cornerback and this guard, and this linebacker and this tight end would have about the same value. They'd come in and they'd be role players for us. They're never going to be starters. Or whatever their value is.
"And so when you're sitting there trying to make your picks, you may be looking at three or four guys and they're all kind of about the same. You're five or six picks away and whichever one of these guys we end up with, we take them in this order, but we could live with any of them."
In other words, the Patriots construct a table of equivalent players that the team would be comfortable selecting. So, theoretically, the Patriots had EDGE Derek Rivers and OT Antonio Garcia on the same horizontal level of their draft board because they considered them of similar value and drafted them at the same time.
So I wonder if that board in the corner, with few names remaining in the fourth round, represents the stack of players that the Patriots are interested in drafting.
It would certainly align with the Patriots decision to trade up in the sixth round and draft OT Conor McDermott, especially if there aren’t many draftable players left on the board.
Former Belichick right-hand Michael Lombardi noted that “instead of predicting rounds, [Belichick’s draft] system forced our scouts to grade every player as (1) a starter, (2) a potential starter, (3) a developmental player, (4) a backup, or (5) someone who couldn’t make any NFL team.”
Perhaps McDermott was the only “potential starter” or “developmental player” on the Patriots draft board, while the rest were backups. That would reinforce what Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said after the draft.
“We stack the players,” Caserio said. “There are certain players that are up on the board that we’re looking at... There are not a lot of players up on the board that we would actually draft. I mean we have a small number of players that we would actually pick. I mean there are 255 that were selected. I mean 50 to 75 – 75 is probably high – like where we ended up in the end of guys that we would actually draft.”
“We’re looking up at the board and saying how many of those players would we actually pick?,” Caserio added. “Well, if we’re not going to pick them or we think we can get them after the draft, well let’s just make sure we get a player that we actually like.”
Caserio is saying that the Patriots were at the end of their original list of 50-75 draftable prospects when the sixth round came about, and that the team decided that they valued McDermott much more than any other player on the board- more so than players the Patriots believed they could get as undrafted free agents.
And so the Patriots made the trade up for McDemott.
Belichick described the mental process of having one player much higher ranked than any other prospect in the same 2003 interview.
"Sometimes you're sitting there and you have three or four guys in that category,” Belichick explained, “and you have one guy that you feel like is sitting up there and is significantly higher and you're not saying, 'Well, he's just going to come in and be a role player and he'll never be a starter.' You're saying, 'Well, this guy could come in and he's going to be a starter for us, now it might take a year and he has a little developing he has to do, but we feel like this guy can come in and he can be a starter for us.'
“That's when you sit there and think about, 'All right, do we want to try to jump up and get this guy if we don't think he's going to fall to us and give up whatever we have to give up to move up and get him, or do we want to stay here and hope he's on the board -- he probably won't be -- and we'll end up with one of these other guys.’”
Do the Patriots believe McDermott could be a starter in the NFL? Time will tell. But if that image is of the Patriots draft board, it would certainly explain why the team only made four selections in the draft- and why they traded up for McDermott later in the day.