The New England Patriots move around the draft board like no other NFL team, and the 2011 NFL Draft was no different. The Patriots move back, pick up picks, sometimes move a few spaces up, pick, and then later on move back again. At times, all of this movement confuses and even angers fans that want the Patriots to just pick a player. I count myself among that group at times, especially in the heat of the moment. Some fans are sick of hearing the word “value” from Bill Belichick and the rest of the Patriots organization. However, understanding how the Patriots operate the draft, and how the value system works, sheds more light on the subject and makes most trades look like tremendous moves. As an example of how this all works, let’s take a look at the trade the Patriots made in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft with the New Orleans Saints.
The Patriots tag each player with a specific value. I’m not going to pretend to know exactly how their specific system works, but it’s likely along the lines of the point system in the draft value chart. Instead of falling in love with a specific player, the Patriots sit and wait and go after a player they rated to match the value of where they are picking. Now, if they rate a player very highly and he drops, perhaps they try and move up to grab what they feel is a player who is at a spot where his value outweighs the value of the pick, or the package given up to get him. If they are sitting at a spot where no player matches the value of that spot on the board, they try and move back. If they can’t, they’ll pick the highest rated player available.
Sometimes, a player with matching value is available, but a team comes up with a trade offer that far outweighs the value of that pick. In that instance, they make the trade, because again, they’re not in love with a particular player. It’s sort of a “buy low, sell high” type of deal. Without knowing what value the Patriots placed on players like Mark Ingram, Cam Heyward, Muhammad Wilkerson, Brooks Reed, or Jabaal Sheard, who were all available when the Pats were on the clock at 28th overall, it’s obvious that none of them met the value of the 17th overall pick, so the Pats made the deal with the Saints. Why the 17th overall pick?
The package the Saints ended up sending to the Patriots for the 28th overall pick (worth 660 points) was their 56th overall pick (340 points) and their 2012 first-round pick. Worst case scenario for New England, the Saints win the Super Bowl and the Pats get the last pick of the first round, 32nd overall (590 points). Under that scenario, the trade package was worth 930 points, almost the equivalent of the 17th overall pick (950 points). Therefore, under that scenario, if none of the available players were valued at 930 points or higher, it makes sense points-wise to make the trade. If the Saints don’t win the Super Bowl, the value of the trade only increases.
This system of drafting has yielded more hits than misses for the Patriots, and has left analysts marveling at how the Patriots do it. Whereas some teams covet specific players, the Patriots stick to their value board, in part because they are a solid team that doesn’t have to reach for a need. As much as we all would have loved a pass rusher, the facts are that the Pats went 14-2, and only improved the roster with the picks they made. Also, we will have free agency at some point, so the Pats can target players in that venue. So the system, which may be somewhat cold in how it views players, has proved its worth, and kept the Patriots on top.