FOXBOROUGH – In past years, the Patriots have held a pre-draft news conference and some viewed it as a waste of time. The team isn’t about to reveal which prospects it hopes to draft – why would any team do that? – so the news conference would sometimes be described as a lot of talk about little.
The Patriots put a new twist on it this year, having director of player personnel Nick Caserio go over parts of the scouting process. Reporters could sprinkle in a few questions along the way.
Understanding there would be little hard news value, the set-up was enjoyable from this perspective.
Here were some initial things that were of interest:
1. Comparing prospects to pro players. Caserio detailed how the team spends time comparing prospects to current NFL players. As a hypothetical example, he picked Penn State defensive lineman Jared Odrick, who was in the 2010 draft, and said the team would pick a player they felt Odrick was similar to (in this case, Ty Warren was used as a hypothetical example). Then the team would go back and look at its notes on Warren coming out of the draft to compare. “That’s something we spend a fair amount of time doing, across positions,” Caserio said. “Once you are through all the Pro days, the combine and everything else, you can start to really hone in and focus in on some of those specific player comparisons.”
2. Trade talk heats up about 5-8 picks out. Caserio explained that when the team has been picking in the back half of the first round, things are usually “pretty tame” in the early going of the draft. About 5-8 picks out is when trade talk heats up. The groundwork for some of those discussions has been laid in the days leading up to the draft.
3. Two goals in process. Caserio boiled down the team’s approach, saying there are two primary goals: A) Get it right; B) Make the evaluation as soon as possible so you can move on to the next prospect. On the second part, Caserio said some players require more time, such as Julian Edelman because he didn’t play in any all-star games and was projected to a new position. The Patriots worked Edelman out as a returner, as a running back, and then as a receiver.
4. Workouts continue right up until draft. The Patriots could be traveling to work out players up to the day before the draft. This has been commonplace for them. “I forget the year, but I want to say I went down the Wednesday or Thursday before the draft to work a player out,” Caserio said. “We just wanted to make sure we knew exactly what we were talking about.” Caserio was asked how many private workouts the Patriots will conduct, and he cited a report that said 100-200, but wouldn't put a direct number on it. The team is allowed 30 in-house visits at Gillette Stadium and those must be completed by next Wednesday.
5. Why so many workouts? Every day, it seems, there is a report that the Patriots are working out a new player. Caserio explained why the team is so extensive in its scouting. "We want to make sure we have the most accurate picture on the player as possible," he said, before using an example of an offensive lineman who would always be in a two-point stance in a passing offense (think Adrian Klemm in 2000). In that type of situation, Caserio said the team would want to privately work out the player to see how he looks in a three-point stance, because he'd have to be in that stance on running plays in the Patriots' offense. Caserio also used running backs as an example, as private workouts often help in the evaluation with how they factor into the passing game (e.g. route-running, blitz pickup). "Our running backs are going to have to block. When we play the Jets, we better be prepared to pass protect," Caserio said. "Can that running back process information? Can he handle all the multiples that are involved in protection? Can he actually stand in there and play with some strength?"
6. Limited value at some Pro days on campus. It was interesting to hear Caserio talk about how the value of Pro days on campus is not always great. Maybe the best part, he said, was the night before when scouts/coaches could sit with the players and watch film. "Some of these, there's 500 people, the NFL Network is there, ESPN3 is there, so how much can you actually get done? It's difficult," he said.
7. Caserio’s presence. One can see why Bill Belichick elevated him to his current position leading the team’s personnel department. He is organized, has command of the room, can articulate thoughts, and obviously knows a thing or two about player evaluation.