Curran: Patriots have changed the way teams draft

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Curran: Patriots have changed the way teams draft

FOXBORO We can enumerate the New England Patriots draft misses. We can reel off their free agent busts.

But when it comes to player procurement, they will never be accused of being gun shy.

Under Bill Belichick, the Patriots work the draft, free agency, the waiver wire, and the undrafted free agent pool unlike any other team in the league.

The volume of players they run through their system is, in part, why they find success. Their roster always churns, players that fit being culled from those that dont.

Square pegs are discarded with a minimum of sentimentality, the simple epitaph of Just didnt work out attached.

For every Brandon Meriweather, there is a corresponding Jerod Mayo. For every Albert Haynesworth, theres an Andre Carter.

If a GM or coach with less clout and fewer wins operated with the same mix of fickleness and bravado Belichick and the Patriots do, theyd be hooted into conformity or excused when the misses piled up.

But Belichicks track record of success compels critics to attach a caveat to every second guess: He knows better than me . . .

The 2012 NFL Draft begins Thursday and the Patriots are again poised to be big players. The draft isnt the only pipeline onto the Patriots roster, but its the most hyped and scrutinized.

New England holds two picks in each of the first two rounds, then single picks in the third and the fourth. Aside from Andrew Luck and RGIII going first and second on Thursday night, the only other sure thing is that the Patriots will make deals.

What Patriot tactics have impacted the way the rest of the league shops for players? And where does the trail end for teams hoping to follow in Bill Belichicks personnel footsteps?

According to Mike Mayock of the NFL Network, the biggest impact the Patriots have had on the rest of the league is in changing how player intangibles are valued.

It's a copycat league and there's certainly no one right way to go about drafting, said Mayock. But when you have as much success as the Patriots have had, everybody in the league self-scouts . . . and they look at New England and there's position versatility.

"There's a premium put on football intelligence and IQ and work ethic. Everybody around the league looks at what they are doing, especially on the pure football side, the position versatility, the work ethic, the locker room. I think those are important things that the rest of the league has followed."

Nolan Nawrocki, draft expert for Pro Football Weekly, says Belichicks drafting style is an amalgam of what hes both created and copied.

If you ask Bill, he would even say hes borrowed philosophically from Jimmy Johnson, Bill Walsh, Al Davis, said Nawrocki. A lot of what the Patriots have established and done came from the blueprints of predecessors before him.

Having been in the NFL since 1975 and around the game all his life, theres virtually nothing Belichick hasnt seen before. When it comes to making bold moves -- draft-day trades for players like Randy Moss, the restricted free agent pursuit that landed Wes Welker, trading down to buy stock in the next years draft -- his hands dont sweat.

Mayock says that isnt the case everywhere.

Bill is a bit of a poker player who likes to move up-and-down the board based on what his value is; not what he perceives the rest of the leagues is. But he knows league value; that's why he's able to move around.

Different teams have different comfort levels, Mayock pointed out. Pittsburgh drafts extremely well every year. Kevin Colbert is great. But they don't really move up-and-down. They know what their needs are. They know what their board says and they go by it. I think a lot of teams take a look at New England and they get nervous about whether they can move up-and-down as efficiently as Bill can.

Both Nawrocki and Mayock agree that the fact Belichick is at the head of a tiny staff make it easier for the Patriots to be decisive.

When Bill is in his draft room, there are not many other people, says Mayock. There are not many other opinions. It's Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio and a couple other people and that's about it. So I think it's hard to emulate the New England model because there are not as many coaches that wear both hats and make the final decision.

Says Nawrocki, With his experience, very few people have had the exposure. Hes never gotten away from the tape, though. A lot of decisions makers are relying on people. He isnt. Hes seeing it. And he understands roster and scheme versatility. Where Bill has separated himself and what made him so great is he knows how to evaluate his own players. Nobodys better at identifying strengths and maximizing talent. I think he understands the league and understands all the avenues of player procurement around the league.

Nawrocki points to the tight end binge of 2010 and the trades for Moss and Welker (pre-draft) as being prescient moves.

What impresses me most is the trades, the way theyve used picks and stockpiled picks, says Nawrocki. Theyre very good at understanding perceived value of players and the real value and manipulating the draft board up and down while other teams will pick who they want where they are (in the draft order). Theres a value on taking a mobile approach to drafting and understanding where to put money into different positions. Dont think anyone looked at (Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez) and turned them into receivers and some of that is looking at the money for tight ends vs. receiver. Hes finding creative, outside-the-box ways to extract production from the roster.

Hes the best at it getting value for his picks, Nawrocki added. Not many teams can convert seven picks into 15 picks but Bills the master at it. His best moves have been in free agency and the trade market than through the draft. And in the draft, hes been better outside first round. But when theres an important decision to make, he doesnt screw it up. He does a thorough job.

And theres value in that.