Bill Belichick grades draft prospects by projection, not by round
If you find yourself questioning a decision Belichick has made in the draft, it's probably because he defines value differently than those in the media portray value.
Former Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage served as a scout and a defensive assistant under Belichick in the mid-'90s. As a result of his working relationship with Belichick, Savage has some rare first-hand insight on how Belichick grades the prospects in the draft.
Savage revealed that Belichick was hesitant to allow his scouts to place such ambiguous grades on a player when they did not have the full context of all the prospects available:
Under Bill Belichick in early 90's, he did not feel an area scout could know the entire country enough to say, "he's a 2nd rounder". #guess— Phil Savage (@SeniorBowlPhil) March 6, 2014
Instead of leaving too much to the imagination, Belichick wanted an individual projection on each player, and how far they'd be in their development at certain stages of their career:
In the simplest terms, BB wanted to categorize the prospect as a "starter", "potential starter", "backup" or "camp body", no Round grades.— Phil Savage (@SeniorBowlPhil) March 6, 2014
This helps give us an idea of why they may have passed on certain players in the past, or why they've "reached" on others. Perhaps where some people saw a first-round grade, the Patriots saw a future backup. Maybe where some people placed a fifth-round grade on a player, the Patriots viewed him as a second-year starter.
Savage clarifies that the perception of value, and how it is labeled, is differentiated between the scouts and the front office:
The scout's job is to assess the prospect's NFL potential for his organization, upper management's job is to determine the round "value".— Phil Savage (@SeniorBowlPhil) March 6, 2014
Savage said that these grades are not reflective of need, and that the evaluations are made as if the team is an expansion club.
Spinning forward to this year, it becomes even harder to believe the Patriots will spend a first-round pick on a player who projects as anything but a three-down contributor. Those are usually the players that earn the top spot on the Patriots' depth chart.
Even if we all somehow manage to get our heads fully wrapped around Belichick's perception of value in the draft, the Patriots will probably still find a way to do something that surprises us.
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