Patriots head coach Bill Belichick took the podium at Gillette Stadium on Friday morning to discuss New England’s draft outlook, his first appearance before the media in advance of the 2018 NFL Draft which takes place between April 25 and 27.
Asked if he plans on drafting a quarterback, Belichick simply stated, “we’ll do what’s best for the football team.” He bristled at another question asking how much longer he expects Tom Brady to play, keeping the focus on the draft.
“The whole ‘draft need’ thing, I don’t understand that,” Belichick said. “I think it’s important to take good players.”
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Despite coming off of their third Super Bowl appearance in the last four seasons, holes are apparent up and down the Patriots’ depth chart. One such position that’s currently all set, but for how long who knows, is that of quarterback. Brady will be 41 years old by Week 1 of the 2018 season, and following last season’s trade of Jimmy Garoppolo, no succession plan is in place for the most important position.
Over the last two NFL drafts, the New England Patriots haven’t selected a player earlier than No. 60 overall, a slot which is late in the second round.
There’ll be plenty of opportunities to restock the roster this year for the Patriots, with the team currently slated to have five picks in the first three rounds – including a pair of first-round picks.
The Patriots currently own the No. 23 and 31 overall picks in the first round, the No. 43 and 63 overall picks in the second round and the No. 95 overall pick in the third round. The 23rd and 43rd picks were acquired via the Brandin Cooks and Garoppolo trades, respectively.
Figuring out who New England will target with those selections is an exhausting process, one which begins with as many as a couple of thousand college players on the Patriots’ initial draft board.
Belichick said that from there, the team tries to whittle it down to about 500 players – there are only 256 draft slots this season – and then get the draft board down to a fraction of that, even.
Draft preparation goes well beyond who New England will take in the early rounds, of course. Belichick is well aware of the contributions later-round picks and even undrafted players have made for the Patriots through the years. Tom Brady (sixth round, 2000), Julian Edelman (seventh round, 2009) Malcolm Butler (undrafted, 2014) and David Andrews (undrafted, 2015) are just a few notable names to meet the criteria.
“The remaining players in the later rounds and free agents are a key part of the process as well,” he said. “As we know, every year we’ve had players undrafted that have made our roster. Some have been significant contributors, sixth or seventh round picks and free agents. That part of the process has been critical to our success; in some ways, it’s just as important as the early rounds are.”
After not using a draft choice until the third round last year, when the Patriots selected Derek Rivers (No. 83) and Antonio Garcia (No. 85) – neither of whom played a snap for the team in 2017 due to health reasons – staying the course this year just might be the most sound move New England can make.
Asked if he views players such as Rivers and Garcia as add-ons to this year’s draft, Belichick said that players almost always improve from year one to year two. He cited current contributors such as Trey Flowers and James White – and Brady – as players who had very little production in their first year with the team.
The draft process as a whole this year is a little bit different, Belichick said, given New England’s pair of first round selections. The Patriots haven’t used a selection as high as No. 23 overall since 2012, when the team selected Chandler Jones with the No. 21 overall pick in the first round.
Realistically, just about everybody is in play for New England come the first day of the draft, Belichick said.
“Other than a handful of guys,” he added.
This would seemingly indicate the team doesn’t have plans to trade up even higher in the first round, despite its abundant draft capital.
“Whatever the opportunities are, we’ll evaluate them as they come and do what we think is best,” Belichick said.