The Patriots have essentially handed over the reins of their personnel operation to Eliot Wolf, a former personnel staffer to Bill Belichick. It's a big responsibility for the young executive, but he's learned from one of the very best, his father, Pro Football Hall of Fame Executive Ron Wolf.
Belichick was, at times, a decent personnel evaluator, but his drafting was seldom exceptional. In the past several years, it's been so questionable that he was taken to task publicly by owner Robert Kraft for his lackluster drafting. That, plus free agency mishaps and coaching deficiencies, cost Belichick his job in New England.
Now Wolf is at the helm of the personnel operation and will be working with the new Head Coach, Jerod Mayo. Mayo's done an excellent job building a staff, especially on the offensive side of the ball. He's brought in outside people with fresh, new ideas to overhaul the team's stagnant offense. Since a coach is only as good as the players the general manager brings in, it's up to Wolf to provide.
The first imperative for Eliot Wolf is to draft consensus players
Bill Belichick was wont to "reach" the NFL draft on numerous occasions. "Reaching" in this context doesn't mean for the book on the top shelf. It connotes taking players in the draft whom the consensus felt had far lower talent levels than where you drafted them. It usually had disastrous or at least disappointing consequences. The catchphrase here is, "You reach, you screech."
Most recent reaches include guard Cole Strange in the first round and wide receiver Tyquan Thornton in the second in the 2022 draft. Strange is just average, and Thornton has been a flop. Last year, Belichick repeated the mistakes, taking a small college safety, Marte Mapu, in the third round and kicker Chad Ryland, in the fourth. Both were reaches.
The moral of the story for Wolf is this: don't think you are more astute than the entire NFL draft establishment. Stay on point and draft players pretty much where most feel they should be drafted according to the "consensus." If Wolf does so with the high picks he has, due to the Patriots dismal 2023 showing, he almost can't go wrong.
That doesn't mean that all of these picks will work out. They won't. That's the nature of the draft. It's a gamble; some you win, and some you lose. Yet, stay in the consensus zone, and your odds are going to be better. That's suggestion number one for Mr. Wolf.
Mr. Wolf also needs to concentrate on the offensive side of the ball in this draft
The Patriots offense in 2023 was horrendous. According to Fox Sports, they were the 30th-rated offense in the NFL and scored only 27 touchdowns, also 30th in the league. That's not going to get you very far in the standings. Their passing offense per game was 28th, and their rushing offense was 26th. In short, they didn't do much of anything well on offense at all in 2023.
While Mayo is a defensive coach first, he has to realize that even with a pretty decent defense, if you don't score, you'll likely still lose, as the Pats did last season. There should be a consensus already in the draft room at Gillette Stadium that this year's draft game is on offense. Any major deviation from offense in the top five rounds deserves to be critiqued.
The Patriots need to scrap the "best player available" theory for what it is: flawed to the core. The strategy they and every other NFL team should employ is to take the best player available at positions you need. If Wolf adopts that strategy and applies it exclusively to the offense with all
his high picks, that dreadful side of the ball can't help but improve. He can always augment his defense in free agency after he adds a true No. One wide receiver there, as well.
This means taking a quarterback, multiple offensive tackles, and several wide receivers/tight ends in the 2024 draft. The cupboard is bare at all of these positions. Additions who can probably be day-one starters should number from three to five players. That's a nice haul for one draft. Draft consensus, and it's entirely achievable.
Those are two essential strategies that de facto general manager Eliot Wolf should adopt in this draft. Consensus drafting can't be a one-time occurrence, however, it's a perennial necessity. Concentrating on offense, however, while essential for this year's draft (and this offseason generally), may not be in the future.
The Patriots' draft performance in 2024 will help determine their priorities for subsequent drafts. It's all on Mr. Wolf now. But if he deviates from these two directions in the 2024 draft, don't expect significant improvement. It isn't likely to happen.