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Patriots head coach Bill Belichick explains the difficulty of drafting wide receivers

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And why it’s easier to sign veterans.

Super Bowl LI - New England Patriots v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Q: With receivers in the draft, how difficult is it to project how a player in college will fit into your offense when you’re looking at height, weight, speed and him playing with a different quarterback and different system? How has that process evolved over the years for you and your staff?

The media asked Belichick about the difficulty of projecting how a college receiver will fit into the Patriots offense.

“The issue in college football is there just is not the same passing game in college football that there is in the NFL, period,” Belichick said during his Wednesday press conference. “It’s hard to evaluate the receivers, it’s hard to evaluate the quarterback, it’s hard to evaluate the offensive linemen, it’s hard to evaluate the pass rushers and it’s hard to evaluate the coverage players...it’s really projecting all those positions a little bit differently.”

Belichick went on to add that there’s less of a difference in the running game from college to the NFL, making it easier to scout.

Belichick was then asked about having more success “importing” veteran receivers, as opposing to drafting players, because it’s easier to scout players against NFL competition.

“It’s always easier to evaluate NFL players than it is to evaluate college players,” Belichick replied. “[When] we get a guy from another team, we’re going to watch him play against many of the same teams we play. We just haven’t seen him play in our system, but we’ve certainly seen him match up against other players in our division or other players in our conference or comparable players in comparable schemes, which is critical, too...it’s much harder from college to the NFL than from the NFL to the NFL.”

The Patriots have been able to add veterans like Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell, Chris Hogan, and Brandin Cooks to strong success under Belichick.

In fact, of the 12 wide receivers with 1,000+ receiving yards for the Patriots that were not on the team when Belichick became head coach in 2000 (so no Troy Brown or Terry Glenn), only Julian Edelman, Deion Branch, and David Givens were drafted by the Patriots- and Edelman and Givens were 7th round picks. Branch is the only Patriots receiver out of the 10 to be drafted in the first five rounds under Belichick to rack up more than 1,000 yards with the team.

There is obviously a difference in opportunity, as the Patriots have signed far more than 10 veteran receivers during Belichick’s tenure. But a 10% rate of reaching 1,000 receiving yards for receivers drafted in the first five rounds, or 19% during the whole draft, isn’t great.

Comparatively, 9 of the Patriots’ 37 veteran receivers (24%) to record at least 1 reception since 2000 have reached 1,000 career receiving yards in New England. This includes cup-of-coffee players like Michael Floyd and Kenny Britt, though, so it’s not a perfect comparison, but that only bolsters the point. The Patriots have a better track record with veterans that make the active roster than they do with drafting receivers, and with veterans they’ve invested heavily in compared to high draft picks.

There’s no question that the Patriots need to invest in the receiver position this year, with Braxton Berrios the lone player under contract beyond the 2019 season. But unless a veteran like Chris Hogan, Michael Crabtree, Rishard Matthews, Dontrelle Inman, Pierre Garcon, or Kelvin Benjamin would be interested in taking an Austin Seferian-Jenkins type of contract for the veteran’s minimum, then New England will probably try their luck with wide receivers in the draft.