We have been fortunate enough to have a franchise open to the media (to a certain extent!) and the Patriots allowed writer Michael Holley to follow the team and write a book called "War Room". War Room followed the Patriots through the draft process and we were able to learn about some the questions the Patriots ask themselves when evaluating a prospect. I have a template right here.
Outside of the normal factors, like a player's size, production, and athleticism, the front office looks at a few additional questions regarding the potential player's contributions to the team:
What is their role? The Patriots won't take a player unless there's a defined need and role for them; just because there may be an elite player available, if there's not a spot on the roster for them, why waste the pick? For instance, the Patriots currently have Devin McCourty, Steve Gregory, Duron Harmon, Tavon Wilson, and Nate Ebner on the roster. Those are three starting quality players, with four special teams contributors. If the Patriots are looking at safeties in the upcoming draft, what would their role be on the team? It'd be shocking if they took one.
Will it change from year 1 to year 2? Now players need to show growth and the first-to-second-year jump is extremely important to Bill Belichick. Players have historically been drafted to be groomed alongside an incumbent starter in year 1, and expected to take over the reigns in year 2. Or, if they're expected to be a depth contributor, then how will their value change from year-to-year? Team building isn't a one year fixer, it has to take the future into account and determining a player's future role is important to evaluations.
How many downs can he play? For a player to be a top two round type of guy, the Patriots have to expect them to a three or four down player. The more downs they can play well, the more value they hold for the team, and the more valuable the team will rank the player. If a defensive tackle is only expected to be a first and second down run stuffer, then he would hold less value than a three or four down player. Of course, this question can be combined with the first and second questions to project a player's expected added value down the road. For example, while Jamie Collins might only be a third down coverage linebacker right now, the team might expect him to develop into an every down player for year 2.
Which current player will he beat out? Team building results in a lot of turnover and, like "what role will the player have?" that question is usually answered with taking another player's job. Just like Duron Harmon beat out Tavon Wilson for the third safety spot, Kenbrell Thompkins knocked out plenty of wide receivers brought in to be depth contributors.
What’s his special teams value? ST is the generally undervalued fourth down upon which the Patriots actually place a premium. A two down linemen grows into a three down player if he can contribute on special teams. Rookies often make the cut with their ST contributions, like Kyle Arrington and Dane Fletcher. ST is important to a depth player and it's why certain players with less positional upside make the team over those with no special teams value.
Does he have positional versatility? This comes hand-and-hand with a player's role. Chandler Jones was drafted since he has the versatility to play both 4-3 and 3-4 defensive end, as well as 3-4 outside linebacker. That versatility can increase the downs they're projected to play, as well as improve their value to a team that prides itself in changing its game plan every week.
If all of these questions are answered in conjunction with the basic player evaluations, we can have a better grasp on how the player is truly valued by the team and how much of an impact they can be expected to have.