In a rare conversation with the New England media late last month, Patriots owner Robert Kraft acknowledged his team has not “done the greatest job the last few years” in the NFL draft.
Bill Belichick, the Patriots’ head coach and de facto general manager, was asked for his take on Kraft’s comments Thursday during his annual pre-draft news conference.
“We’re always looking to get better,” Belichick said over video chat. “We always try to evaluate everything that we do and try to find a better way to do it. That’s, I would say, an annual process with the draft, but it’s something that we do on a regular basis throughout the course of the season, whatever period of time it is. (We’re) always looking to do a better job.”
Of the 10 players the Patriots drafted in the first three rounds between 2017 and 2019, three no longer are with the team (Derek Rivers, Antonio Garcia, Duke Dawson), one has yet to play an NFL snap (Yodny Cajuste) and another could be traded this offseason (N’Keal Harry). Yet another has been buried near the bottom of the depth chart for the last two seasons (Joejuan Williams), and three more have battled multiple injuries (Isaiah Wynn, Sony Michel, Damien Harris).
Kraft said he sees Belichick and his staff taking a “different approach” to the draft this year. Belichick wouldn’t share specifics about how New England’s draft prep has changed, but he did say the Patriots have gotten better at navigating the various COVID-related restrictions that first complicated last year’s process.
Ahead of the 2020 draft, most college pro days and all individual visits/workouts were wiped out by the pandemic. The pro day circuit returned this year, but the NFL Scouting Combine was canceled and private workouts remain off limits.
“There were some things last year that were unique to the draft process,” Belichick said. “Some of those are similar this year. Some of them are a little bit different. So we certainly used some of that experience to improve the process a little bit this year — at least we felt we improved it this year.
“But ultimately, we’re still going to try to evaluate the players and make the decisions that we feel like are best for the football team. We’ll continue to do that, and that’s really what we’ve always tried to do. I don’t think the mission’s changed.”
New personnel chief Dave Ziegler, consultant Eliot Wolf, national scout Matt Groh and former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia are leading New England’s draft evaluation team, Belichick said. Patricia, back with the Patriots in a new role after an inauspicious three-year stint as head coach of the Detroit Lions, has been “heavily involved” in the pre-draft process, per Belichick.
Ziegler, previously the Patriots’ assistant director of player personnel, was promoted this offseason to replace Nick Caserio, who left to become the Houston Texans’ general manager. Ziegler’s new title has not been announced.
The 2021 NFL Draft is set to begin Thursday, April 29. The Patriots currently own 10 total selections, including No. 15 overall.