Scouts from outside the Patriots organization noticed something that their 2021 draft picks have in common. Something that indicates a new approach.
As reported in Albert Breer’s Monday column for The MMQB, scouts from the outside looking in noticed that the Patriots’ 2021 draft picks “were all highly productive college players, and there wasn’t the kind of wild Belichick curveball those who’ve been there got used to” in recent years. Quarterback Mac Jones had one of the most productive seasons in NCAA history, for starters. Second-rounder Christian Barmore racked up eight sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles in his final season at Alabama, while earning defensive MVP honors in the Crimson Tide’s CFP national championship win over Ohio State.
Breer contrasts that with picks like Jordan Richards and Tavon Wilson, a pair of second-round picks who were barely on most draft boards and never became much more than special teamers. But it’s worth noting that Belichick has thrown his share of strikes with the curveball, too. Some top “experts” considered guard Logan Mankins a reach at the 32nd pick in the 2005 draft. He turned out as arguably a better player than everyone else taken in the first round that year, minus Aaron Rodgers and DeMarcus Ware. Same goes for tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who seemed like a curious pick at 58th in the 2009 draft, but under Belichick became a solid starting right tackle.
The problem wasn’t necessarily the selections themselves, but the lack of input that scouts had when it came time to make them. All indications are that the 2021 draft proved more collaborative. The Patriots made sure of this with their own content, like the video of Ernie Adams personally selecting wide receiver Tre Nixon. Belichick has complimented top Pats executives on multiple occasions, and credited Eliot Wolf with coordinating the team’s move up the draft board to select Barmore 38th overall.
Breer added that the main criticism of Belichick’s drafting is that he overvalues “traits” and “his own personal experiences with players and connections to their coaches.” The latter point ostensibly continued in 2021, considering he went with two Alabama kids in the first two rounds. Their Pro Day was the only one Belichick personally attended.
But the Patriots’ 2021 draft picks indicate a shift more toward established production, over the unknowns that come with players who didn’t produce (or even play) a lot in college, compared to other top prospects. And still, there seems to be a balance between production and traits. Jones and Barmore certainly appear to be strong fits for what Belichick and the Patriots want out of their respective positions.
It will take at least 2-3 years to know how the Patriots’ modified draft approach goes. But the truth is that they had a dry spell in the first two rounds of the draft from about 2014-17, and mixed results (so far) from 2018-19, and they paid the price for it by investing heavily in free agency to improve the roster. Robert Kraft said publicly that the drafting needed to be better and that he’d already seen a different approach.
We’ll see if any of the Patriots’ 2021 draft picks turn out to be legit. But what’s clear is that this class is different.
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Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @mattydsays. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.