With the NFL Draft, Belichick is measured, methodical and often maddening

Jim Hackett
April 26, 2020 - 12:21 pm

"With the 37th pick in the NFL Draft, the Patriots select ... Kyle Dugger, Lenoir-Rhyne."

If you live outside a five-mile radius of Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, N.C. you probably don’t recognize his name. Me neither. However, you may know him by some of his aliases like Adrian Klemm, Terrence Wheatley, Jermaine Cunningham, Ras-I Dowling or Jordan Richards.

Yes I know, I’ve left plenty of past second round Patriots draft busts out of my example. The point is, that the feeling across most of Patriots Nation early Friday evening is one that has become all too familiar.

Disclaimer: I think Bill Belichick is a brilliant overall team builder. His process has proven to be the best the league has ever seen in terms of building sustained success. I get it. Fully.

However, there is a rigidity to this process that sometimes overshadows the need of the moment, and Friday evening, April 24 was one of those moments.

The needs of the Patriots in the post-Brady era are numerous, as this article so eloquently points out.

Tight end, wide receiver, offensive line, quarterback, linebacker, edge rusher and, yes, safety are all positions that I cited along with several co-workers who identified similar needs in that piece. Through the first two days of the draft, in totality, I think the Patriots have addressed some of those needs well and that potentially includes Dugger. However, that’s not the point I’m trying to make.

The makeup of the current Patriots roster is wildly undermanned compared to those of the last 20 years. Seriously. There are wide gaps all over the roster. Even a position of strength like safety is manned by aging players at the end of their careers. The Patriots have the oldest roster in the entire NFL and that statistic still holds true, even with the recent departure of their 42- going on 43-year-old quarterback of the last two decades.

There is an urgency to injecting a massive dose of higher-end, young talent into this roster starting right now. It doesn’t feel like a good time to reach for players of the highest level of risk and unknown at the top of the draft. Yet, Belichick just rolls on with his predictable process as if nothing has changed.

Reality check, a lot has changed.

Value above all and a dart throw approach for upside in the second round and sometimes even in the first round is the Patriots’ way come draft time.

The Sony Michel pick comes to mind.

Belichick is a very smart man. I have to think he knew that Nick Chubb was both the more talented and healthier of the two Georgia running backs in the 2018 draft. So why choose Michel over Chubb?

He knew he wouldn’t cost as much long-term, that’s why. The value proposition. The value pick. The cost savings. The whole versus the sum of the parts. Choose your metaphor. The Belichick approach to the team build in the NFL draft is as predictable as the daily rise and set of the sun.

It can also be frustrating.

For the most part, I agree with the plan. If your team has more contributors on your 53 man roster than the rest of your competition then you have more than a decent path to succeed. Belichick has proven that. Sometimes though, you just have to pick up the check don’t you? Put your chips into the center of the table and get a little uncomfortable. Given the current state of the Patriots roster, the No. 37 pick in the 2020 draft certainly felt like one of those times. They traded back specifically to be in that position.

Yet, Friday night’s atmospheric reach for Division II sensation Kyle Dugger of Lenoir-Rhyne University may possibly be the biggest example of this rigid mindset and it couldn’t be at a worse time for the organization.

Tom Brady is no longer here to provide the endless safety net (pun intended) the Patriots have enjoyed for 20 years. While Belichick endlessly shopped the remnant rack at the local going-out-of-business sale, Brady’s championship presence enabled him to so with great success.

However, as Neil Young once crooned: “Comes a time” and pick No. 37 Friday night was one of those times. A time to take a gamble on a big-time player that may cost some money down the line. That’s just not the Belichick way. In fairness, they certainly took a risk Friday night, just the wrong type at the wrong time.

I’ll close with this. Seeing that a Division II player had never been selected so high in the modern history of the NFL Draft, might they have been able to secure Mr. Dugger’s services in the third round? Maybe fourth?

Seeing that prolific players like Texas wide receiver Devin Duvernay slipped to the back of the third round and highly touted quarterback Jacob Eason of the University of Washington left Friday night undrafted, I’d confidently say yes.