The 2023 NFL draft kicks off next week, and in New England, there has been a lot of focus on what the Patriots will do with their first-round pick since some big holes need tending to.
The slew of mock drafts that have been published by experts over the last few months have all had the same theme in mind for night one, having Bill Belichick select a cornerback, offensive tackle, or wide receiver; the rumored three positions the head coach/general manager has narrowed his choices down to.
Of course, over the years, Belichick has gone against the grain regarding what players he takes in rounds deemed “too early to take such a position,” like in 2022 when the team chose Cole Strange in round one despite being at least a third-round prospect.
But according to former Patriots director of college scouting Thomas Dimitroff, that’s precisely how NFL teams should go about this year’s draft; pick the players you need, not just because they’re the best player available.
When speaking to Tom E. Curran of NBC Sports Boston on the Patriots Talk Podcast this week, Dimitroff talked about the age-old rule Belichick constantly fought against and shared his agreement on how the head coach goes about the draft.
“Back in the day, you had a lot of people that were like, ‘This is how you do it. You never draft a running back this high,’ or ‘You never draft a receiver (this high).’ God forbid you move up (to take) a guy like Julio Jones. Believe me, I was skewered for that (in Atlanta).
But what I realized as we were moving through the mid 2000s, 10s, 15s, 20s is that people are now taking who they believe are the best players. They’re not going back and saying, ‘Historically, you don’t take this position or that position.’ It’s what is best for your damn team now.’”
As a part of the Patriots from 2003 to 2007 and then working as the Falcons’ GM for the next 13 seasons, Dimitroff has been a lot of team staff and participated in many NFL drafts.
He noted his experience with Belichick as the most eye-opening, believing that he and Scott Pioli, another former Patriots’ executive, set a trend that now teams around the league are finally catching on to.
“We were taught by Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli: ‘You know your organization better than anyone. You take the person that is the best for that organization. And I really do believe that’s something that a lot of GMs are doing now.”
Belichick’s strategy in the draft has yet to go without criticism, however, as they have flubbed some draft picks over the years that continue to haunt them to this day.
Have we gone through a single season since the 2019 draft that the Patriots are not ridiculed for passing on A.J. Brown, Deebo Samuel, and D.K. Metcalf in the first two rounds?
Now that they enter a crucial offseason for the future of the team, Belichick and the Patriots are under a microscope for their draft selections this year.
Although many fans will want them to go after the best player available, Dimitroff emphasizes that going after what your team needs most remains the best strategy while also not going after them too early.
“I’m telling you: Drafts are driven by need. Every mistake that any GM is going to tell you about, it’s because of over need reaching. I can’t believe how many times I’ve seen that where people have just been reaching and saying, ‘We need a guy to get to the quarterback,’ or, ‘We need the quarterback.’
There’s a lot of mistakes made that way. I think you have to sit back, take a deep breath and understand what you have.”
With so much on the line with this draft next week, hopefully, the Patriots will continue to do what’s best for the team while acquiring some of the best talent in the draft. It will be a far better offseason if the conversation surrounding the team isn’t full of more scrutiny and complaining, to say the least.