The draft is a little over a week away and things got started in Foxborough on Tuesday as Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio met with the media for a pre-draft press conference. Before delving into this year's crop of college players, he offered some thoughts on the recently named nominees for this year's class at The Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon.
"The Hall of Fame nominees, it's a great group. Certainly congratulations to those three players," Caserio began. "[Raymond] Clayborn probably predates a lot of us in this room but quite an accomplished career -- 12 years, 161 straight starts,  career interceptions – a great football player.
"Mike [Vrabel] and Kevin [Faulk] I can certainly speak a little bit more about them having been around them. Those two players embody what the Patriots football program is about. Kevin Faulk basically made himself into the great player that he was. The stories about how he taught himself how to pass block. He didn't know how to do it when he got here and he worked with [offensive line coach] Dante [Scarnecchia]to try to get better in that area. Dependable, productive and it's a credit to the career he's had.
"Mike's career speaks for itself. He was asked to do a number of different things, some of which he'd never done before. He probably thought he had the best set of hands of anybody in the NFL. He always talked about how his hands were better than Hines Ward. Tremendous nominees and we'll see how the process goes so certainly congratulations to them."
Caserio then credited the Patriots scouting department, particular director of college scouting Monti Ossenfort and his staff before moving into the draft itself.
INJURY RISKS –With several players entering the draft with significant injuries – Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith and UCLA's Myles Jack among them – Caserio was asked how the team evaluates such players. The recent release of former first-round pick Dominique Easley put the question in the spotlight.
"It's really relative to everything else you may be looking at when you pick," Caserio said. "You grade the player for who he is, you evaluate his play and then we have a system in place that sort of earmarks it so we know whether it's an injury issue, a character issue or whatever the alert may be. So you assign the grade and figure it out relative to whatever else is available when you pick. You just have to make the decision that's best for your team.
"You're building a broad mosaic of things that go into the player. It's never one particular thing that you're evaluating. You're evaluating the entire body of work over the course of three, four years and then look across relative to the other players at whatever position you may be picking and try to pick the players off how you think they're going to come off and maybe relative to when you feel you might be able to get that player. There are a number of factors that go into it."
PLAYING IT SAFE –The Patriots lack of a first-round pick has been one of the biggest storylines around the draft for the team. Caserio was asked if that fact would make New England less prone to take a chance in the second round on a player with some injury or other concerns.
"I don't really think it changes the overall philosophy. You still go through the same process. The reality is that our process really hasn't changed this year relative to previous years. We have the picks that we have, we'll go through a similar process, we grade the players and look up and see at the time when we pick what one player looks like relative to another."
SPREADING IT THIN –In terms of evaluating the talent in today's ever-evolving college game, Caserio admitted that it can be challenging. The influx of quirky offensive systems like the omnipresent spread attacks leave much more to the imagination in terms of projecting the players to the pro game.
"I don't care where you played you're making a significant jump from college football to the NFL. There are some programs that throw the ball 75 times a game and the offensive linemen have never run blocked or gotten in a three-point stance.
"You have to spend time with the player and understand what they've been asked to do. That's when the visits and interviews [help]. That's when you have to go through your process and determine what you will be asking that player to do and do you feel he's equipped enough to make that adjustment. The reality is, until you actually have them in your system you never really know. You just have to go through your process and make an assessment on how that player is going to adapt to what you'll be asking him to do."