Matt Groh knows a thing or two about the draft. Before being promoted to the New England Patriots’ director of player personnel position earlier this year — therefore becoming Bill Belichick’s right-hand man in personnel matters — he served in the college scouting department for nine years.
Groh has seen hundreds of prospects try to enter the NFL each year, and knows about the particular strengths and weaknesses of each draft class. It was therefore no surprise to see the first question of a recent press conference call address just that issue.
So, what does Groh see as the defining characteristic of this year’s draft? It’s wide range of experience.
“You’ve got guys with a lot of experience, and you’ve also got your true juniors who are coming out just like we always do,” Groh said. “You’re going to see guys who’ve played three years of college football, and you’re going to see guys who have played five years of college football — and actually played five years of college football, not just been in college for five years.
“You’re going to see both those guys, I’d say, going in the first round. We’re on top of those younger players from a very, very early stage, but we’ve also accumulated a lot of information on some of these players who we’ve been covering for a number of years.”
With Covid-19 disrupting the college football season in 2020, players were granted special eligibility to stay in school beyond their usual four years. Several have taken advantage of those circumstances, including projected first-round picks such as guard Zion Johnson (Boston College), defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt (Georgia) and edge rusher Jermaine Johnson (Florida).
On the opposite end of the spectrum are players with limited experience, whether in college in general or due to varying circumstances ranging from injuries to position changes. Overall, however, Groh sees a deep class that is offering the opportunity to get some solid value beyond the first round.
“I think there’s good value across the board,” he said. “We’re always looking for value, no matter where it is. We want our 21st pick to be valuable, just like we want our 54th pick to be valuable and kind of commensurate with where we see that player helping our franchise.
“There is good depth. It’s so easy to just get caught up on the splash names, one through five. So, it’s finding that value for the positions that you think can have — I use the word ‘instant-impact’ for wide receivers, and it’s not just wide receivers: hopefully your first-round pick is coming in and providing something for you right away, and similarly with the second- and third-round picks.”
The Patriots are set to enter the 2022 draft with eight selections in hand, including the 21st overall pick.