Drafting a player takes plenty of work and time, an effort that oftentimes goes largely unnoticed. While college all-star games, Scouting Combine, and Pro Days are marquee events in the offseason, teams already need to have a good feel for a player at that point.
In order to do that, a club’s local and national scouting network is key. The New England Patriots’ first-round draft pick, cornerback Christian Gonzalez from the University of Oregon, is further proof of that.
Gonzalez was on the team’s radar for some time now, with scout Tony Kinkela closely following him. Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh therefore made sure to mention Kinkela during a media conference call following the conclusion of the first round on Thursday night.
“Excited to be able to add Christian Gonzalez to the team,” Groh said. “True junior but a player we have certainly been on here for the last year, with Tony Kinkela as our west national scout living out in Boise, knowing the Pac-12 really well, from Christian’s time at Colorado and then moving with Coach Demetrice Martin from Colorado to Oregon. Tony, Chris Caminiti, those guys were on Christian early.”
Kinkela joined the Patriots last offseason, and brought plenty of experience to the table from his time as a scout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
He originally joined the Buccaneers as a combine scout, focusing on the Scouting Combine and working with the NFL in selecting invitees to the event. In 2011, he was promoted to area scout and from his home base in Boise, Idaho played a vital role in recruiting players such as Tristan Wirfs and Antoine Winfield Jr.
Now, he can add another first-rounder to the list of players he closely scouted. Together with area scout Chris Caminiti, who himself has several years of coaching and scouting experience, he laid the foundation for the team bringing Gonzalez in.
The same was true for recently-hired offensive line coach Adrian Klemm, who spent the 2022 season with Gonzalez. While Klemm worked on the other side of the ball, he did give the Patriots some intel on the prospect and player he was.
“Unique situation when you’ve got a coach on your staff,” Groh said. “We’ve got enough relations with some great coaches around the country. Certainly with Coach [Dan] Lanning and getting to know him down at Georgia and Marshall Malchow who really runs their personnel. We’ve got great relationships there.
“But you’ve got a coach who’s on your staff you know you’re getting the truth on the player, good and bad. So that allows you — again there’s that comfort level. Coach Klemm was with Christian, call it eight months, so definitely a great resource. ... We spend a lot of time trying to get to know who these guys are as players and as people. So, definitely appreciate Coach Klemm’s input.”
Of course, the scouting side of it was only one part of the eventual pick. The Patriots, after all, moved down from No. 14 to No. 17 in a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Moving down and still being in a position to pick a player they had a close eye on is a credit to the pro scouting side of the operation. Groh mentioned three people in particular: director of scouting Eliot Wolf, director of pro scouting Steve Cargile, and recently re-hired Pat Stewart.
“We can’t predict what anybody else is going to do,” Groh said. “We try to get as good a feeling for that as possible. Then when you have a certain amount of players that you still feel comfortable with there in the first round to be able to go ahead and pick up that extra pick. It was a great job by Pat Stewart being in contact with different teams and Eliot Wolf working with the Steelers, moving back and still being able to pick up Christian. ...
“We try to do our research and try to have a feeling as far as positionally what a team might be looking for. That’s Steve Cargile and his team really working hard on the team’s needs. We’ve got all that posted right there in the draft room and try to be cognizant of what the teams are looking for.”
The Patriots felt good about trading down from No. 14 — adding a fourth-round pick in the process — because they had a feel for what the teams they would move behind would do. The Steelers eventually picked an offensive tackle, the New York Jets an edge, and the Washington Commanders a different cornerback.
Obviously, there was a risk involved with moving back; another team trading up might have spoiled the Patriots’ plans. New England showed trust in its process, however, both by trading down and by investing in a player scouted for quite a while.