Could Tom Brady Have Gone Undrafted? Bill Belichick Details Drafting Process

FOXBORO, Mass. — When the third day of the NFL draft hits its midway point, the New England Patriots start to use instincts and intel to make the most of their selections.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick noted Friday during a lengthy answer on the drafting process that most undrafted players have similar grades to those drafted in the sixth and seventh round. The Patriots have had considerable success signing players after the draft. Current UDFAs on their 53-man roster are starting center David Andrews, tight end Jacob Hollister, defensive tackle Adam Butler, defensive end Keionta Davis, linebacker Brandon King, cornerbacks JC Jackson and Jonathan Jones and punter Ryan Allen.

“We get into the sixth, seventh round and there’s probably 20 players, call it — I don’t know, whatever the number is, 15, 20 players, that are up there that you could probably make the case for any of them,” Belichick said. “Some of it is draft strategy like, ‘If we don’t draft this player, we know he’s not going to be available as a free agent,’ or maybe we know he is going to be available as a free agent if we don’t draft him and we feel like we have a shot at him.”

So, how do the Patriots know a player might or might not be available after the draft?

“There’s a lot of circumstances,” Belichick said. “Sometimes you just go with what the information you have is, what your instinct is. We have a lot of experience in this. Some guys you know are going to get drafted based on the amount of activity or whatever you determine. There’s a lot of places to get information from however you get that information. It doesn’t mean you’re right. You’ve got to go with what you go with, so sometimes you go with that.

“Sometimes you think a player’s not going to get drafted and you have a shot in free agency. We’ve been right and we’ve been wrong on that. Matt Cassel — we thought he definitely would have gotten drafted or signed with somebody else had we not drafted him even though we didn’t really think he was going to get drafted. He threw 30-something passes in college, but there was enough activity on him and certainly, people know about him that had been at (the University of Southern California) that were in the league that had shown interest that had a prior relationship with him, which we didn’t. As an example, we drafted him because we didn’t think we’d be able to get him as a free agent.”

Since undrafted players typically have similar grades as late-round picks, that means the Patriots probably had difficult decisions to make drafting quarterback Tom Brady in the sixth round and wide receiver Julian Edelman in the seventh.

“Certainly there’s a reason why you take one guy ahead of another,” Belichick said. “There’s good reasons for that, but in the end, a lot of those players, I would say, have similar grades and their opportunities are relatively similar. There’s people ahead of them and if they can outperform those people then they do, and if they can’t then next year somebody else comes in there and gets that opportunity. Whether you take a quarterback in the sixth round or a quarterback who’s going to be a wide receiver in the seventh round, or whatever round Edelman was in or guys like that.

“Some of those you draft, some of them you get at the other end — the Jacob Hollisters, the Malcolm Butlers, the JC Jacksons. We’ve had those guys every year. Sometimes you take guys — Nate Ebner, Joe Cardona, Matt Slater — and Brandon King doesn’t get drafted. I would say those level of players — college level, not pro level — when you’re putting a grade on them, a lot of those players have a similar grade; sixth, seventh round, free agents. So when you get to free agency, if you have a guy that has the same grade as a guy you drafted in the sixth round then you try to get him and it’s not that surprising when he comes in and is as competitive, sometimes more competitive than the player you drafted because you had him graded the same. Again, for whatever reasons you took one guy ahead of another, but in the end we value their ability similar and then, obviously, as they play then those grades are no longer valid. What’s valid is what the performance is.”

Belichick initially was asked if there were certain traits the Patriots are willing to ignore when signing a rookie free agent rather than drafting a player. This was a long, informative and interesting way of saying no.

Thumbnail photo via Tim Fuller/USA TODAY Sports Images

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