This won’t be your Belichickian Patriots anymore

Head coach Jerod Mayo (left) gets to build the Patriots his way after 24 years of Bill Belichick (right) having the final decision.
Head coach Jerod Mayo (left) gets to build the Patriots his way after 24 years of Bill Belichick (right) having the final decision. / Mark Brown/GettyImages

250-pound linebackers. Quickness over straight line speed. Offensive linemen with a mean streak.

Are we still going to see these traits in the New England Patriots NFL Draft class?

Over the past 24 years, we have learned what a Bill Belichick scouting department looks for in potential NFL Draft prospects. This often didn’t align with how the rest of the league approached team building. It became typical to say, “When the league zigs, the Patriots zag.”

As much criticism the Patriots received from numerous analysts, their decisions worked. No franchise had the string of success New England had, with two dynasties and six championships to show for it.

For the first time in more than 20 years, Belichick isn’t making the selections. New head coach Jerod Mayo will collaborate with a rebuilt scouting department for a different approach to decision-making.

In the Patriots’ new structure, Eliot Wolf appears to be the de facto general manager with Matt Groh, the director of player personnel.

And with those changes, figuring out who are Patriots-type of prospects becomes harder to figure out, and it’s a bit unsettling.

How the New England Patriots evaluate draft prospects is changing, and it’s anyone’s guess what the results will be like

There’s a comfort in knowing what kind of player fits the Patriots’ system. After years of observing how Belichick prioritized qualities in players, we could filter through hundreds of prospects and identify a few dozen players that fit the profile of an ideal Patriot.

A defensive lineman had to be able to play in odd or even fronts. Pass rushers better be able to set the edge on run defense, or New England would have little interest in them. Above all else, running backs better hold on to the ball or get locked in the doghouse.

There are myriad qualities that Belichick emphasized for the Patriot Way, many of which contradicted what the rest of the league prioritized. But two dynasties and six championships confirmed that what Belichick believed in worked at levels never seen before and probably won’t be matched ever again.

Was it annoying that Belichick didn’t think it was worth drafting a wide receiver in the first round or passing on an edge rusher built only for hunting quarterbacks? Yes. But at the same time, drafting his guys kept the Patriots at or near the top of the league for 20 years. Belichick didn’t follow trends. He made them.

Belichick made the slot receiver WR1. Then, the rest of the league made it a point to find really good ones. Belichick brought back the two tight-end offenses, so some teams doubled up at the position. Belichick had versatile players at multiple positions. Guess what other teams did?

Eventually, after years of trying to keep up with Belichick, the league caught up to the Hoodie. So Belichick adapted. After years of 5'10, 5'11 cornerbacks, he tripled up at big corners with Christian Gonzalez, Ameer Speed, and Isaiah Bolden in 2023. Coaching Stephon Gilmore and Aqib Talib may have changed Belichick’s mind about big cornerbacks.

After treating receivers as an afterthought, he selected N’Keal Harry in the first round in 2019. Seeing the difference speed makes at the position, Belichick drafted Tyquan Thornton, the fastest receiver in the draft, in the second round in 2022.

Obviously, Belichick could had made better decisions with those two, but at least Belichick tried.

Belichick’s slow embrace of the modern NFL likely played a role in his parting ways with the Patriots, which is unfortunate. It would have been fun witnessing what Belichick would do with Marte Mapu, who’s undersized for a typical Patriots linebacker by about 20 pounds but was emerging as a playmaker by the end of the season.

Now Mayo has to build the Patriots in his vision. And we have no idea what constitutes a Mayo-type Patriot prospect.

Will Mayo still adhere to the same tenets Belichick believed in, or will they be predictable and similar to what we see around the league? Will being predictable be a good thing? Should that excite us?

Obviously hitting on the early draft picks is important, but can Mayo, Wolf, Groh and the scouting department find a David Andrews or Tre’ Flowers on day three?

People LOVE Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr., but is he a Patriot type? Washington’s Ja’Lynn Polk seems more like a Patriot type, but would Belichick spend a second round pick on Polk? Texas’ Jordan Whittingham, a possible late day three prospect, seems more likely for Belichick.

But Belichick isn’t here anymore, so maybe MHJ is a Mayo-type. But we don’t know. We don’t know for the 400+ prospects hoping to hear their name called during the NFL Draft until Mayo and Wolf finish making selections over three days.

Maybe we’ll relax after reviewing Mayo’s first draft class. But until then, the unknown is uncomfortable.

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