When the New England Patriots invested a seventh-round draft pick in Julian Edelman they did so despite him not having a clear position. Edelman was a dual-threat quarterback at Kent State, but he was undersized to play the position at the next level.
Teams worked him out at multiple positions during the pre-draft process — from running back, to defensive back, to returnman. In New England, he eventually became a standout wide receiver and cornerstone of three Super Bowl-winning teams. He also became the perfect example of the team’s beautifully simplistic draft strategy.
You try to get good player onto your team, and figure it out from there.
Patriots head coach/general manager Bill Belichick spoke about just this issue during the 2021 NFL Draft. After selecting a pair of front seven defenders on Day 2 he was asked whether or not bolstering the position group was one of the team’s goals entering the draft. Belichick responded with a 400-word explainer why thinking in categories such as “goals” or “needs” does not really work in reality.
“We can’t control what’s going to be on the board. “There’s 31 other teams picking, so we just try to take advantage of our opportunities in the draft to improve our team however we can. So that’s the way I’ve always approached it. It really can’t work any other way. I don’t feel comfortable going to the draft saying, ‘Well, we’re going to take one guy at this position and take another guy at that position,’” he said.
“It doesn’t go that way. Then I just don’t think you’re getting the value for the picks that you have.”
Belichick went on to explain that while drafting would be an inexact science, the decision making process remains the same nonetheless with both a long- and a short-term perspective having to be kept in mind. On top of it all, the value of each pick also needs to work out relative to the position and player.
“I would say I’ve never gone into a draft saying, like, ‘Well, we got to draft somebody or other at this position or this group of positions or whatever.’ It’s sometimes those players are there and sometimes they’re not,” Belichick said. “Sometimes they’re there and you can really use them and sometimes they’re there and maybe you don’t feel that it’s as necessary, but then when you get good players on your team inevitably you use them.”
One of the Patriots’ Day 2 selections raised questions in this area. Oklahoma edge defender Ronnie Perkins was a highly-rated player on most draft boards — and apparently New England’s as well — that fell all the way to the 96th overall position before he was picked up.
The Patriots did get some good value given that they were able to stay put and still come away with Perkins. However, they also added him to a position group that already saw some major investments during the offseason up until this point: New England signed fellow edge linebackers Matthew Judon and Kyle Van Noy in free agency, after already having invested Day 2 draft choices in Chase Winovich and Josh Uche during the previous two drafts.
Perkins was still added because he too falls into the same “good player” category Belichick mentioned. He is not alone in it either.
“I’ve heard that before, ‘Why did you draft James White and he’s inactive all year?’ Why did you draft Damien Harris and he was inactive all year?’” Belichick asked. “And then later on the next year and in the course of their careers those guys have, those are examples of guys that became very valuable.
“I think you try to acquire good football players and we’ll figure out how to use them.”
New England added its fair share of good-looking players over the last three days. While some such as quarterback Mac Jones address obvious needs, others will get the “figuring it out” treatment. At the end of the day, though, they are all in the same boat: if they perform well in whichever role they are given, the Patriots can feel good about the selection.