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.

Brown taking opportunities with Celtics as they come

Brown taking opportunities with Celtics as they come

BOSTON -- Compared to most high draft picks, Jaylen Brown doesn’t log a ton of minutes for the Boston Celtics.
 
Playing on an experienced team with legit hopes of making a deep playoff run, rookies seeing limited minutes is a given.
 
Knowing playing time will come in a limited supply, Brown understands all too well the importance of taking advantage of every opportunity he gets on the floor.
 
He did just that on Saturday in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia, and he hopes to do more of the same on Monday when the Celtics take on the Houston Rockets.
 
When you look at Brown’s stat line, nothing about it looks impressive. He played 15 minutes, scored two points with one rebound and one blocked shot.
 
But beyond the stats was the fact that he was on the floor for seven minutes in the fourth quarter in a close back-and-forth game on the road. Rookies on the floor in crunch time is not the norm in the NBA.
 
“It means a lot,” Brown told reporters after Saturday’s win. “I try to be as best I can be for my team; try to put my best foot forward every night out.”
 
And he did just that on Saturday.
 
In the fourth quarter with the Celtics leading 87-83, Brown blocked a Gerald Henderson shot that wound up in the hands of Jae Crowder. Moments later, Jonas Jerebko hit a 3-pointer that gave the Celtics their largest lead of the game, 90-83.
 
And just two minutes prior to the blocked shot, he was out in transition following an Isaiah Thomas steal and threw down a dunk that pushed Boston’s lead to 86-83 with 7:11 to play.
 
Brown acknowledged making the most of those opportunities bodes well for him and the franchise.
 
“It’s great for our team in general; not just for me,” Brown said. “Those plays helped us to pull the game out in the end. So I’m glad we got the win. I think we should have played a little better than we did.”
 
The continued pursuit of self-improvement is a hallmark of what Brown’s focus and desire are at this stage of his pro career. He has talked often about not wanting to be just one of the best in this draft class but also one of the best in the NBA overall.
 
But he’s also learned that to get there takes time and experience developing both physically and mentally. Part of that mental growth entails having the right approach to games.
 
“Usually you try to tell yourself not to mess up,” Brown said. “Now that I’m getting more comfortable, it’s just play basketball, bring energy, things like that; come out and do what you’re supposed to do. A lot of times you try to tell yourself to not mess up and it’s counteractive; just come out and play basketball and have fun.”
 
And by doing so the minutes will come.
 
“You can’t control that. I just have to control what I can control,” Brown said. “I trust coach (Brad Stevens); I trust my coaching staff. I have to come out and in the minutes I get, play my hand as best I can and take advantage of what I do get and impact this team as much as possible.”
 
This season, Brown is averaging 4.8 points, 2.0 rebounds while shooting 41.9 percent from the field.

Zolak: Bennett helps with Gronk loss, but Pats need to manage him

Zolak: Bennett helps with Gronk loss, but Pats need to manage him

Scott Zolak said on Pregame Live Sunday that the Patriots are better-suited to survive a season-ending injury to Rob Gronkowski than they were a season ago. 

Zolak said that given the health of Dion Lewis, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and the signing of Chris Hogan, the offense has more stability at other positions to make up for the loss of Gronkowski, whose season is over due to back surgery. As for the tight end position, Zolak said he feels the Patriots traded for Martellus Bennett to protect themselves against scenarios like the one they currently face. 

“This offseason they [acquired] Martellus Bennett, I think for this very reason: to prepare for what really happens year after year, is some sort of issue comes up with Rob Gronkowski and you have to play without him,” Zolak said.

Bennett was questionable with an ankle injury for this week’s game, but is expected to play. Asked about the health of Bennett, Zolak said that he believes the tight end is good to play, but that his importance to the team with Gronkowski out means the Pats will need to be careful. 

“I think he’s healthy enough to get through about 30-35 snaps,” Zolak said. “They’ve got to balance him now moving forward.”