FOXBOROUGH — It's a blessing and a curse.
For the sixth straight season, the New England Patriots hold a selection in the second half of the first round of the NFL draft. That's what happens when you're consistently making the playoffs and competing for Super Bowls.
No one at Gillette Stadium is complaining, though, and the Patriots' director of player personnel Nick Caserio thinks the team will be able to find good players in the late-first round to early-second round range.
"I'd say it's probably similar to most years," Caserio said at a press conference at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday, with regard to the depth of the draft in the 20-45 range. "I'd say there's going to be players at multiple levels that you feel could come in and help your team. Maybe there's some that are a little bit further along than others, but I think the draft process in and of itself, just talking to that 20-45 range, I think you're going to find quality football players within that range. In the end, the most important thing for us is what's the role for our team, how do we see that player, and then we make the determination based on that."
This time of year, there are always draft websites that are offering their take on which players rank where in the pecking order. NFL.com, CBSSports.com and ESPN.com are just some of the websites that offer comprehensive rankings of every player that is available in this year's draft.
You'll notice they all have some major discrepancies. This is not lost on Caserio.
"I think most drafts, just generally speaking, there's probably eight to 10 players that everybody has conviction about," Caserio said. "Look, you guys have seen all the mock drafts. Everybody's got an opinion. It seems like there's 50 mock drafts out there. If we took a poll of everyone in the room, if we went 1-32, none of them are going to look the same once you get to a certain point. So what you try to do is just identify the players. Really, what we're concerned about is their role and how they fit on the team, not necessarily round or grade. So, let's figure out the player, let's define his role, what's this player going to be for our team? And then where that player actually ends up falling in the draft, that's just part of the overall process."
Some teams grade prospects based on what round they should be selected. Other teams choose to assign grades based on their actual projection: immediate starters, chance to become starters, special teams players and backups, and practice squad players.
No matter how closely the teams scrutinize the players, and no matter how much homework they do on those players, the best laid plans often go awry. There are simply some factors that can't be taken into consideration until after the player has already begun his transition into the NFL by learning a new system, a new position, or getting acclimated to a new level of competition.
"I'd say there's a multitude of factors that go into that," Caserio said. "Maybe it's making the position switch, maybe it's a learning element — just how quickly he learns. The reality is, once you get them here, you think you know what you have, but you really don't know until you actually get your hands on them and can actually start to work with them. Maybe that player retains information better than others, maybe another player takes a little bit longer. Until you actually start to go through the process, which is pretty exhaustive — meeting, installation, walkthrough, practice, make the correction on film, come back the next day and see if they can actually make some improvements — so how quickly they do that, it varies from player to player.
"There's certainly some players that are more ready than others, or you think that they are, versus another player, maybe it's a lower level of competition or like I said, he's making a position switch. You just sort of have to make that determination and that kind of goes in turn with what the value is for our team and then how he's valued according to our scale."
No matter how deep a draft is, no matter where the Patriots end up picking, the draft process is as fluid as the development of the players the team ends up selecting.
Today's top picks can be tomorrow's backups in a matter of two or three years. Sometimes, that's completely out of their control — just ask Aaron Dobson, who was thought to be the future of the Patriots' wide receiving group as a second-round pick in 2013, but has been pushed further and further down the depth chart over his short tenure with the team.
That's not always a bad thing, though, as the Patriots are looking to create competition at multiple positions to field the best team possible.
Caserio is confident that the Patriots could play with the roster they have right now, but he won't pass up an opportunity to continue building.
"I think we feel the players that are in this locker room, some have played a lot of football for us, some are in the earlier stages in terms of their development, and then we have some players from other teams we've acquired that have a lot of experience, but we're not really sure how they're going to fare in our system," Caserio said. "If we had to go out there and play today, we could play, but the season doesn't start today so we'll continue to build a team and try to do what we think is best for the organization."