It's that time of year when it seems everyone and their uncle is putting together a mock NFL Draft. Not surprisingly, Bill Belichick and his Patriots scouting and coaching staffs compile them as well to "spark a conversation" during their pre-draft evaluations.
"It's just an exercise," the head coach explained, "to complete the process of preparation."
The actual draft is less than two weeks out now. With that as the backdrop, Belichick entertained media questions at Gillette Stadium for about 20 minutes Friday morning. He did his best to keep the line of questioning focused on draft-specific items, and among them, these are his most noteworthy responses.
"Just about everybody's in play"
New England is as loaded at the top of the draft as it has been in recent years. As of today, the Patriots own four picks in the first two rounds (two apiece), which Belichick acknowledged gives his team the kind of capital it might need to move up to the upper reaches of the first round.
"Going into those past two drafts, I would say we were able to eliminate a number of players just based on where we were selecting [at the bottom of Rounds 1 or 2]," he observed. "This year is a little bit different than that. We really need to know the draft from top to bottom and potentially – I'd say there's a handful of players that are probably out of reach – but realistically, just about everybody's in play, other than a handful of guys. So, that's a little bit different than what it's been.
"It doesn't change our process any," Belichick added. "It just changes, I would say, the level of work that we do on some players that could be a factor that, in other years, similar players, we scouted them but we really had no opportunity to draft them."
Whether or not the Patriots actually swing a deal to move up is another story, but at least Belichick was willing to concede, at least obliquely, that the realistic possibility exists. One way or the other, the first night of the draft (Thursday, April 26) should be quite exciting here at Gillette Stadium.
"If we all use the same chart, we all agree on basic value"
When it comes to trading on during the three days of the draft, NFL clubs regularly rely on the so-called Draft Value Chart, which can vary slightly from team to team depending on how it's calculated and by whom. It has also changed recently due to the NFL allowing teams to trade their compensatory picks, something long forbidden.
Belichick wasn't asked directly about this topic, so, it was interesting that he chose to bring it up on his own while answering how the draft dynamic has changed since the NFL separated the first round from the other six several years back.
"One of the problems with the draft chart, if we all have our own draft charts, which is fine, sometimes it's hard to make a trade," Belichick pointed out, "because [teams will argue], 'Well, my draft chart says this. Well, your draft chart says that,' whereas if we all use the same chart, we all agree on basic value. Then it's a lot easier to get what we call, I'd say, a fair trade.
"I'd say over the last few years, the majority of the trades that we've studied have been within a few percentage points one way or the other of being the correct value for the trade. In some cases in later rounds, sometimes those get a little bit skewed just because you have fewer picks… Overall, they've been pretty consistent with what our evaluations show on the trade chart, which I think is what the majority of the teams use. Relative to resetting the draft, the trade chart, I'd say there's been a little bit of a modification there."
"No games in May or June or July"
This is also the time of year when everyone wants to play critic or analyst of the NFL team or teams they follow. With respect to the Patriots, many believe one of New England's most urgent needs is to replace starting left tackle Nate Solder, who departed for the New York Giants via free agency last month.
Belichick appeared to take a subtle jab at those outsider's early evaluations when, tongue firmly planted in cheek during his opening remarks, he referenced the unveiling of the NFL's preseason schedule earlier this week.
"I noticed on that schedule that there are no games in May or June or July. Preseason games are in August, so it doesn't look like the regular season is going to start until September this year. So, that's four [more] months of team building. There will be other player acquisitions and deletions, I'm sure, after the draft, as there always are with our team and every other team in the league. This is one piece of the puzzle, it's one part of the process, but there are no games scheduled in May.
"So, we'll continue to evaluate our team, all aspects of it – new players, new veteran players, new rookie players, existing players, players that will eventually come on the team from some other source at some point, as they always do or have in the past every year. So, we'll just go through that process and take it as it comes. But, it's an exciting time to be involved in the team building."
It certainly is, and those preseason contests will be upon us before we know it.