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Don’t get caught up in the hype of the Patriots’ top-30 pre-draft visits

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Top-30 prospect visits are long on fun, but short on substance.

Super Bowl LIII - New England Patriots v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

With the NFL draft just weeks away and all but a handful of west coast college pro days remaining on the schedule, the draft boards of the league’s 32 teams — for the most part — have started to materialize.

With a majority of the New England’s labor-intensive information gathering process in the rear-view, what lies ahead over the next three weeks for Bill Belichick, Nick Caserio, and the Patriots scouting department is a sprint to the finish as they work tirelessly to finalize small details and narrow their focus.

A major aspect of this process, of course, is the hosting of official “top-30” prospect visits. Prospective draftees typically meet with front office personnel and medical, followed by meetings with members of the coaching staff. Teams are not permitted to workout prospects. The Patriots’ coaching staff is notorious for putting invitees through their rigorous film sessions, which are often supplemented with tests and quizzes.

NFL teams spend thousands of hours developing thorough player evaluations — from scouting games, tape study, speaking with college coaches and staff to weed out character concerns and other “red flags”, to conducting brief, informal meetings with players at the Senior Bowl or the NFL Combine. These official visits are an opportunity to put the finishing touches on those evaluations, and allow the team to better finalize their opinion of a prospect they’ve heavily invested time in.

However, as valuable as these visits can be, they cannot be considered a legitimate forecaster of what the Patriots will do in the draft. According to archives kept at NEPatriotsDraft.com, as well as our own archive here at Pats Pulpit, since 2013, the Patriots have drafted just 13 players and signed one priority undrafted free agent who took an official visit to New England. That’s just 26.5% of their 49 drafted players over the past six drafts.

So, while it’s exciting to feel as if you’re gleaning insight into the Patriots’ pre-draft process when reports state that a high-profile player — or any player for that matter — is taking an official visit to Foxborough, it always has to be taken with a grain of salt. As with anything the Patriots do, there is often a myriad of reasons behind the official invites they extend.

The impetus behind a large number of these invites is to have certain boxes checked by in-house medical staff. Such was the case with guys like wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell in 2016, and defensive tackle Dominique Easley in 2014, who — like Jerod Mayo in 2008 — was taken in the first round by New England after taking an official pre-draft visit to the Patriots’ facilities. This year, Washington offensive tackle Kaleb McGary falls into this category.

Bill Belichick and his scouting department are also infamously thorough. Although many of these visits are used to collect information on potential Patriots targets, the scouting files for each player who doesn’t end up in Foxborough are kept on-hand and updated for opponent film study, weekly game planning, and in case the player becomes available at a later date. Since 2012, there have been 11 players who took official visits with the Patriots, were drafted or signed by another club, and were acquired by Bill Belichick later in their careers.

With all of this in mind, here are the players who have reportedly taken, or plan to take, visits to New England this April:

  • Joejuan Williams, CB — Vanderbilt
  • Blake Cashman, LB — Minnesota
  • Jace Sternberger, TE — Texas A&M
  • Miles Boykin, WR — Notre Dame
  • A.J. Brown, WR — Mississippi
  • N’Keal Harry, WR — Arizona State
  • Kaleb McGary, OT — Washington
  • Johnathan Abram, S — Mississippi State

It’s impossible to predict who the Patriots will take in this year’s draft by simply reviewing a list of their top-30 visits, and with regard to their first round pick, it’s probably more likely to tell us who they won’t be taking rather than who they will. In fact, there is only one thing that can be accurately predicted about the Patriots’ upcoming draft. Each ‘i’ will be dotted, every ‘t’ will be crossed, and it will all be meticulously cataloged and filed away, waiting patiently at Bill Belichick’s finger tips for exactly the right occasion.

Follow Brian Phillips on Twitter - @BPhillips_SB