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Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh stresses the importance of first-round draft picks: ‘You can’t miss on those guys’

New England is slated to select 14th overall this year.

The New England Patriots are currently slated to select 14th overall in next week’s NFL Draft, their highest pick in over a decade. While there is no guarantee they will actually make a selection in that spot, the goal remains the same regardless of when they make a choice in Round 1: find somebody who can come in and contribute right away.

Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh said so himself on Tuesday. Asked about the confidence level of having 14 players worthy of that investment, Groh pointed to the process and said objective.

“We definitely don’t want to try and suppress players, trying to look at what they can do and how they’re going to help us, and how they’re going to fit into our scheme,” he said during the team’s annual pre-draft media availability at Gillette Stadium. “But that’s an important thing: what fits for us might not fit for somebody else and vice versa.

“You’re hoping there at 14 you can get a pretty good player. I’d say throughout the first round there’s an old philosophy: you’re taking a player in the first round, you’re hoping that player is going to come in and make an impact for you.”

The Patriots’ drafting has been a hot-button issue for some time now, especially given that the team has now failed to qualify for the playoffs in two of the last three seasons. Owner Robert Kraft himself previously stressed the importance of building through the draft.

Groh essentially echoed those remarks on Tuesday, especially as far as first-round picks are concerned.

“I’m pretty sure nobody’s going into the draft saying, ‘Ah, we’ll be alright if we screw up on our first-round pick.’ You can’t miss on those guys,” he said. “That’s an investment. That’s a four- or five-year investment. It’s great to find those free agents, certainly from a cost-spending perspective, but you’re making a real investment in that guy you’re taking in the first round and then in the second and third rounds as well.”

Now in his second year as player personnel director, Groh is serving as the right-hand man of head coach/de facto general manger Bill Belichick. Under his leadership of the personnel department, the Patriots made some solid selections last year — including first-rounder Cole Strange.

While a surprising pick following a trade-down from No. 21 to No. 29, Strange immediately took over as New England’s starting left guard; the Chattanooga product will continue to play that role in 2023 as well. Other players added later in that draft or through rookie free agency also managed to earn prominent jobs on the roster, but as Groh pointed out first-rounders like Strange will still be under the most pressure to perform.

“With that fifth-year option on the first-round guys, you better do your homework,” Groh said, “and make sure you get those guys right from a character perspective and from a player perspective.”