When New England Patriots head coach/general manager Bill Belichick held his annual pre-draft press conference last week he did not go into too much detail. He said the same about the quarterback class as last year, spoke about value as the basis of his team’s decision making, and went only through hypotheticals when discussing potential trades.
While there were no groundbreaking statements or deep dives into the organization’s pre-draft process, Belichick did pull back the curtains a little bit: at one point during his opening statement, he recognized the men who are doing the heavy lifting this spring.
“Dave Ziegler, Eliot Wolf and Matt Groh have really carried the ball on this,” he said. “They’ve done a ton of work and their respective staffs that they oversee as well. In particular, those three guys have really done a tremendous amount work, evaluation, organization and have done a great job putting things together. It’s been great to spend a lot of time with them and go through the process.”
Patriots fans have probably heard all three of those names before. We here at Pats Pulpit, for example, have mentioned them repeatedly in the past: Ziegler as the prime candidate to take over the old Nick Caserio role as Belichick’s right hand man; Wolf and Groh as those representing New England on the scouting trail this year.
But beyond those basic bits of information, what are their roles? And how come those there are the ones running the show alongside Belichick and the coaching staff?
Ziegler was listed as assistant director of player personnel on New England’s most recent media guide released last year and as such the number three in the department behind de facto general manager Belichick and director of player personnel Caserio. Ziegler was promoted to this current position last August, which now puts him in line to succeed Caserio after his departure to the Houston Texans earlier this year.
Seeing him heavily involved in the scouting process is therefore no surprise. The 43-year-old does not just bring the organizational role to the table but also plenty of experience.
Before arriving in New England, he had spent three seasons working as a pro scout for the Denver Broncos. He additionally assisted the coaching staff in producing and presenting advance scouting reports.
Ziegler eventually left Denver after the 2012 season to join New England’s scouting operation. He worked three years as assistant director of pro scouting and four as director of pro personnel before being promoted to his current role last year. Ziegler, who was a college teammate of Caserio and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels at John Carroll University, presumably received a new contract earlier this year when the Broncos expressed interest in bringing him back to fill their vacant general manager position.
Even though his official title during the 2020 season was that of scouting consultant, Wolf seems destined for a more prominent role either within the front office or the player personnel departments. He spent plenty of time on the scouting trail this year, after all, and represented the organization at the Pro Days of top-tier quarterback prospects such as BYU’s Zach Wilson, Ohio State’s Justin Fields and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance.
His experience as a personnel evaluator and NFL executive extends far beyond those scouting trips, however.
Before joining the Patriots last offseason, Wolf filled numerous roles for three different organizations. Starting his career in the Green Bay Packers’ pro personnel department in 2004 under his father, Hall of Famer Ron Wolf, he worked his way up the ladder to become director of pro personnel (2012-14), of player personnel (2015), and of football operations (2016-2017).
He left Green Bay in 2018 to join the Cleveland Browns as assistant general manager, but was let go again earlier that year. Following a short stint with the Seattle Seahawks, he arrived in New England last March — bringing what Belichick described as a new perspective last September.
“When you come from a different organization, or two organizations in the last couple years, have a fairly recent background of other philosophies, other ways of doing things,” he said. “Certainly, he’s been able to help me in terms of, ‘Take a look at this. Here’s the way we did this.’ It might be something we tried and we don’t want to do it that way to it might be something that’s, ‘No, I hadn’t really looked at it that way, that’s a pretty good idea.’ It’s good to generate new ideas like that.”
The most experienced among the Patriots’ college scouts, Groh is entering his 11th season in the organization and third as a national scout. He first arrived in New England back in 2011 as a scouting assistant and after two years was promoted to area scout.
A former college quarterback at Princeton, Groh — like Wolf — comes from football royalty: his father, Al, coached on all three levels of football, including a stint as the Patriots’ defensive coordinator under Bill Parcells; he also became Bill Belichick’s successor after he had left the New York Jets just one day into his tenure as their head coach.
As for his son, he has been busy in his role as a national scout this year: Matt Groh scouted Trey Lance in Fargo and Justin Fields in Columbus. While it remains to be seen what the future holds for him within the Patriots organization, he appears to be a prime candidate to fill the role of college scouting director held by Monti Ossenfort until his departure to the Tennessee Titans last spring.
“Matt’s done a great job for us,” Belichick said about him back in 2019. “He’s kind of worked his way up. Left his law career behind and converted to football, and he’s done an excellent job of scouting for us and helping build the depth of our football team.”
Together with the rest of New England’s scouting department — including fellow national scout Brendon Yeargan and the area scouting staff — as well as the aforementioned Ziegler and Wolf, Groh has played a notable role in the Patriots’ draft process so far this year. Obviously, they are not alone: Belichick also mentioned recently returned Matt Patricia during his pre-draft presser, while the coaching staff and he himself also are actively involved as well.
Groh, Ziegler and Wolf in particular, however, have taken over plenty of responsibilities during this non-standard scouting cycle. It will be exciting to see how their respective roles evolve in future years, and whether or not they will establish themselves as general manager candidates either in New England or somewhere else at one point down the line.
And, of course, if they will live up to the trust Belichick apparently placed in them this year.