Is Bill Belichick taking more of a collaborative approach with NFL Draft?

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Robert Kraft generated a lot of attention with his comments relating to the Patriots and recent drafts a few weeks ago.

“I don’t feel we’ve done the greatest job the last few years and I really hope, and I believe -- I have seen a different approach this year," he said, speaking via conference call following the virtual NFL owners meetings.

Why did this generate so much attention? No. 1, publicly acknowledging the poor drafting and No. 2, seeing a different approach for this year.

This of course fell mostly on the shoulders of Bill Belichick, who leads all aspects of the team from on the field during the season to team-building off the field during the offseason.

Following Kraft’s comments some stories were resurfaced, including from Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, where Belichick reportedly ignored his scouts when it came to the selection of N’Keal Harry, as they suggested other receivers. It was also reported scouts were frustrated that Belichick would take things over following the season where with most teams the scouting department stays on through the entire process.

Looking at how things have gone so far this spring, perhaps Kraft was onto something with seeing a different approach and maybe Belichick is leaning more on his scouting department than ever before.

“Dave Ziegler, Eliot Wolf and Matt Groh have really carried the ball on this,” he said during his pre-draft video conference Thursdsy. “They’ve done a ton of work and their respected staffs that they oversee as well. In particular, those three guys have really done a tremendous amount of work, evaluation, organization and have done a great job of putting things together.”

It’s worth noting that all three, in addition to Josh McDaniels, saw Justin Fields throw over his two pro days and Belichick did not. In fact, it seems Belichick only attended two pro days this spring — Miami (Florida) and Alabama.

Due to the on-going pandemic and COVID-19 protocols in place limiting the number of people at pro days it’s hard to totally read into this, but if Belichick is really the only person’s opinion that matters, wouldn’t he have made sure to get a good look at Fields? Wouldn’t he have gone to the Senior Bowl? Wouldn’t he have attended more than two pro days?

“We’re always looking to get better," Belichick said. "We always try to evaluate everything we do, we try and find a better way to do it. That’s I would say an annual process with the draft, but it’s something we do on a regular basis throughout the course of the season, whatever period of time it is. Always looking to do a better job. There were some things that last year were unique to the draft process. As I mentioned some of those are similar to this year, some of them are a little bit different. We certainly used some of that experience to improve the process a little bit this year, at least we felt like we improved it this year.

“Ultimately, we’re still going to try to evaluate the players and make the decisions we feel are best for the football team. We’ll continue to do that and that’s really what we always try to do. I don’t think the mission has changed.”

Of course, Belichick isn’t going to come out and give specifics on how the organization is doing things, but based on what we’ve seen it feels like the 69-year-old is collaborating more with his scouting staff than ever before.

In past years maybe Belichick takes Groh’s spot at Ohio State to see Fields. Or Belichick tells Wolf not to bother going to North Dakota State and he will see Trey Lance for himself.

Belichick also referred to spending a lot of time with them going through the process. While he praised Nick Caserio and the job his staff did in the past, it’s hard to remember him discussing spending time with them.

As accomplished as Belichick is, he is never going to completely defer to his scouting department, as after all he’s the one that will be coaching the players and has a pretty good idea of what he wants. But, we could be witnessing a bit of a transition where the operation is more of a collaboration and more voices get to be part of the discussion.

How it all plays out come the draft remains to be seen, but we’ll get a chance to see in two weeks.

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