FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Times have changed.
With that, Bill Belichick says, so have the Patriots’ standards when it comes to evaluating talent.
“Look,” the Patriots head coach said earlier this month at the team’s press conference in advance of the upcoming NFL Draft. “We have our standards at each position, so height, weight, speed and other criteria are a standard. So some players are below that standard and are good football players, some players are below that standard and aren’t good players. Some players are above that standard and are good, and some players are above it and they’re not as good. So that’s not the final evaluation, but it is a standard.
“Those standards have changed. I mean, when I came into the league, when I was at the Giants, the standard for defensive tackle was probably 6-2, 285 pounds. I mean, (with) offensive linemen (it was) 6-5, 285, 290. Those guys now would look like midgets. So it’s changed and our standards have changed, but again, relatively speaking, you’re still evaluating what a player’s total performance is going to be, not just the standards.”
The game has changed.
With that, Belichick said, so must a team’s approach to player acquisition.
In football terms, it’s often a case of reading and reacting, getting burned by something and then taking action to make sure it doesn’t continue to happen going forward.
“If two-thirds of the league have running-type quarterbacks and quarterbacks that are athletic and are going to scramble and are going to be those kind of players, then you better be ready to defend them,” said Belichick. “And if teams are going to be three-receiver sets in the majority of offensive formations, then you better be ready to put five defensive backs on the field and be ready to have a slot corner. If you want to have a slot receiver, then you need to have a slot receiver if you want to put three out there. Somebody’s got to play in the middle. So, there certainly is a degree of that, and I think those are things that you have to be mindful of.
“I’d say usually they have to hit you in the face. Usually you sit there at the end of the year and say, well, we had a lot of trouble blocking this player or defending this type of player or whatever it is, and then that kind of becomes a need for you. Either we have to change our scheme to do this, which probably isn’t that easy or you would have already done it, or we have to have another certain type of player on our roster that we don’t currently have that has a certain type of skill set.
Wide receiver is one position of pressing need for the Patriots heading into the draft. The team’s other most pressing needs include tight end, defensive line (both on the edge and inside) and offensive tackle.
With 12 picks, tied for the league high with the New York Giants, the Patriots won’t be lacking in opportunities in this year’s draft. Six of the picks are in the top 101 of the draft.
A breakdown of the picks:
•First round: No. 32 overall (original)
•Second round: No. 56 overall (via Chicago)
•Second round: No. 64 overall (original)
•Third round: No. 73 overall (via Detroit)
•Third round: No. 97 (compensatory)
•Third round: No. 101 (compensatory)
•Fourth round: No. 134 (original)
•Sixth round: No. 205 (compensatory)
•Seventh round: No. 239 (from Philadelphia)
•Seventh round: No. 243 (from Cleveland, via Kansas City)
•Seventh round: No. 246 (original)
•Seventh round: No. 252 (compensatory)
As it is, it’s already been an offseason of change at One Patriot Place as (in alphabetical order): defensive tackle Malcom Brown (signed with New Orleans), offensive tackle Trent Brown (Oakland), defensive end Trey Flowers (Detroit), wide receiver Chris Hogan (Carolina), wide receiver-kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson (Chicago), cornerback Eric Rowe (Miami) and offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle (Buffalo) left as unrestricted free agents.
running back Brandon Bolden (Miami), safety Terrence Brooks (New York Jets), wide receiver Bruce Ellington (Detroit), wide receiver Maurice Harris (Washington), tight end Matt LaCosse (Denver), offensive tackle Cedrick Lang (Minnesota), defensive tackle Mike Pennel (New York Jets) and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Jacksonville) were signed as free agents; defensive end Michael Bennett (Philadelphia) was acquired in a trade and; most significantly, tight end Rob Gronkowski retired.
Amid all that, punter Ryan Allen, wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, place-kicker Stephen Gostkowski, cornerback Jason McCourty and defensive end-outside linebacker John Simon were re-signed.
The comings and goings have left the team without a clear-cut No. 1 tight end, a handful of question marks behind Julian Edelman at wide receiver, in need of more help in the defensive line, and with the soon-to-be 31-year-old Marcus Cannon and 2018 top draft pick, Isaiah Wynn (unproven after tearing his Achilles tendon in the preseason and redshirting his rookie year), in line to start at offensive tackle, depth at that position.
The first round of the NFL draft kicks offs Thursday night at 8; rounds two and three begin Friday night at 7; the final four rounds start Saturday at noon.