The New England Patriots are just coming off a successful season after just winning their fifth Super Bowl ring during the Belichick era. Since the 2017 NFL Draft has commenced, they have been off the radar thanks to trades for Brandin Cooks and Kony Ealy, the Patriots do not have a first or second-round pick.
The question to be asked is can the reigning NFL champions maintain their status as being the number one team in the AFC without a major draft selection?
Since Belichick took over as the head coach back in 2000, the team has found much luck in the latter rounds of the draft, to include a player that many labels as the greatest in NFL history, sixth round draft pick Tom Brady.
Led by director of player personnel Nick Caserio, the organization's scouting department have been successful in bringing in talented late-round players who fit perfectly into the New England football system, to include seventh-round pick Julian Edelman and fourth-round picks Shaq Mason and Trey Flowers. Let's not forget Malcolm Butler, the undrafted free-agent cornerback Malcolm Butler, who made the biggest play in Super Bowl history just a little over two years ago.
In fact, there are only five starters from Super Bowl LI who entered the NFL as first-round draft selections. These players are Devin McCourty, Nate Solder, Dont'a Hightower, Malcom Brown and Shea McClellin.
With a winning record almost every season, the team has gotten used to having low draft picks, having only drafted early than the 20th overall pick just three times since 2002.
Football analysts, coaches and scouts, fans - have all wondered how do the Patriots continue to do it?
It all begins with the draft selection process that New England has in place. Many has to do with the head coach's involvement in this process. Normally, a team's general manager brings in players for the coaches to coach, but Patriots head coach Belichick has a hand in it all.
While many teams aim to draft high, the Patriots focus is on selecting efficiently as possible. Belichick likes to break down players to the point where several scenarios are chosen and options of how they could play out are analyzed.
Maybe there is a special player they are willing to trade up for similar to Chandler Jones and Hightower back in 2012. Or there could be a player with chances of still being on the board when they're on the clock such as Brown, who went 32nd overall in 2015. There is also the possibility of the Pats considering trading down to get a better value for a player who isn't necessarily high on their board. As seen in the past, the Patriots haven't traded up solely for first-round players either.
Whatever the reason may be, the Patriots have a strict method that has brought much talent to the team and success to the organization.
Making a move for fifth rounder Matthew Slater in the 2008 NFL Draft, the Pats weren't too sure if Slater would be a defensive back or wideout. But, Belichick did recognize that he was talented enough to immediately contribute and improve the team. He simply makes plays that positively affect field position.
In this case, they saw value and risked the trade, which has since paid off for them. Slater, a two-time Super Bowl champion, has been one of the NFL's best special teams players over the last decade, earning first team All-Pro honors last season and making his sixth Pro Bowl.
In addition to this asset on special teams, the conscious decision on taking in kicker Stephen Gostkowski in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft has paid off tremendously.
The value of kickers has been elevated to an all-time high as sixty two games were left in the fate of team kickers to decide by three points or less. With a known history for having great kickers, the Patriots' Gostkowski has followed suit with his 87.1 percent completion rate of field goal attempts so far. To add to this, two years ago in the fifth round the Pats picked up long snapper Joe Cardona, who plays a position others might pass over for a skill-position player.
Numerous times has these selections in Rounds 4-7 been valuable and considered "need" players for the team as they have important traits that pays off eventually. The Pats have become known as a team who won't waste picks on prospects they don't imagine suiting up on Sundays.
Furthermore, seeking potential players doesn't stop when the draft process ends. The Patriots are known for following players throughout their careers and pounce on the opportunity to sign them when they become free agents. Since the time they were drafted, Brandin Cooks, Dwayne Allen, Stephon Gilmore and Rex Burkhead have all been on the Patriots' radar.
Belichick is a coach who consistently changes the game plan and system based on the opponent being faced. Much of his success is solely due to seeking "system flexible" players who fit into the team's philosophy and have a high football IQ among other qualities. Maintaining a high level of versatility at every level and position amongst the team is what has contributed to New England competitiveness year after year.
Entering this year's draft, New England had seven picks as they looked for potential and value in players to fill voids in certain player positions. The team is looking to complete their roster by adding players in these positions to the list - outside linebacker, defensive end, offensive tackle and offensive guard.
To recap the Patriots' draft night, it consists of trading or giving away every single one of their original picks. They sent the 72nd and 200th picks to Tennessee for the 83rd and 124th picks. Then, they sent the 96th and 124th picks to Detroit for the 85th pick. They made two trades in the third round and selected defensive end and pass defender Derek Rivers of Youngstown State and offensive lineman Antonio Garcia of Troy.
Rounds 4-7 of the 2017 NFL Draft continues on Saturday, April 29th at noon airing on ESPN and ESPN2.