Patriots Mailbag: Dissecting Robert Kraft’s Comments About Pats’ Recent Drafts

Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft was critical of New England's recent draft record.

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Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft rarely makes himself available to the media. 

This week, one of those occasions occurred when Kraft held a conference call following the virtual owners’ meetings where the league finalized a 17-game regular-season schedule in 2021.

Kraft’s post-owners meetings remarks are customary, but his words were unique following a 7-9 season that he described as “horrible” to witness from the owners’ box.

In a rare public critique of his football operations, Kraft took aim at the Patriots’ recent draft record and was skeptical of their free-agent spending spree.

According to Pro Football Focus, the Patriots rank 24th out of 32 teams in value-added through the draft since 2017 weighted for draft positioning. 

There were a few contributors, such as 2018 first-rounders Isaiah Wynn and Sony Michel, 2019 third-rounders Chase Winovich and Damien Harris, and 2020 rookies Michael Onwenu, Kyle Dugger, and Josh Uche look promising. But unless the 2020 class produces them, the Patriots lack blue-chippers in recent drafts that you build around.

“In the end, if you want to have a good, consistent winning football team, you can’t do it in free agency. You have to do it through the draft because that’s when you’re able to get people of great talent, whether it’s Willie McGinest or Tom Brady, you get them at a price where you can build the team and be competitive,” Kraft said. “Once they get to their [second] contract, if they’re superstars, you can only balance so many of them. Really, the teams who draft well are the ones who will be consistently good.”

“I don’t feel like we’ve done the greatest job [drafting] the last few years and I really hope and believe I’ve seen a different approach this year,” he continued. 

The final words of Kraft’s critique of the Patriots’ recent team-building approach were the most telling; the team, in Kraft’s view, is going about things differently in this year’s draft cycle. 

We can point to a few key differences on the scouting trail as Bill Belichick sent his top scouts to the Senior Bowl, which Belichick usually attends. Similarly, national scout Matt Groh and consultant Elliot Wolf took in Pro Days for top quarterbacks Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, and Trey Lance, not Belichick himself or offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.  

Maybe Belichick wanted to keep the other 31 teams off the Patriots’ scent by staying away from certain prospects the team is high on, or perhaps he’s giving more power to his scouts. 

After a few years of subpar drafting, Belichick might be taking a back seat to get fresh opinions. 

Although the scouting changes are notable, the biggest difference this year is that former Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio is now the Houston Texans’ general manager.

Caserio had the loudest voice in the draft room other than Belichick’s over the last decade, and it’s impossible to decipher whose picks were more Caserio’s guys versus Belichick’s. 

Still, it’s noteworthy that the Patriots let Caserio leave this time with the roster in flux after trying to block his departure at every turn in the past. The Pats didn’t have contractual control of Caserio this time around, but both sides were ready for Caserio to take the next step in his career and move on from New England.

There were also murmurs among those in the building that Caserio and Belichick didn’t always see eye-to-eye in the draft. Belichick usually got his way, hence why Caserio wanted more control. 

The Patriots are filling the void left by Caserio with multiple people. Assistant Director of Player Personnel Dave Ziegler is leading the scouting department along with Wolf and Groh, while former Pats defensive coordinator Matt Patricia (contracts) is taking on some of Caserio’s responsibilities as well. 

The information you get about Caserio’s departure is hearsay, as is usually the case with these things, but the feeling is there weren’t a whole of tears, and some even welcomed the change. 

Kraft’s assertions that the Patriots made changes to improve upon recent struggles in the draft should be music to Pats’ fans’ ears, and we are already seeing those changes come to light. 

Now the biggest question remains: will those changes carry over to the draft selections themselves? We’ll see later this month.

Below, we’ll answer a dozen or so of your questions for this week’s mailbag. As always, thanks to everyone that asked questions and continue to ask questions every week. We have other opportunities to ask questions on our Patriots Beat podcast on Tuesdays and Thursdays:

Great question. My gut feeling is that the Patriots would entertain a smaller trade-up than the 49ers but might not go all-in to trade up to four. Something like the 7-11 range makes sense. I just don’t see Belichick giving up the capital for one player, even a quarterback. Here’s what I would give up using the trade value chart as a guide: 

  • Fields, Lance, or Wilson: no. 15, no. 46, and a 2022 first-round pick to Detroit for no. 7
  • Mac Jones: no. 15, no. 96, and a 2021 or 2022 fourth-rounder to Dallas for no. 10  

Those trades seem like fair value for all sides and aren’t overextending for the prospect’s talent level. The question is, who falls where? And do the Patriots like the guy that ends up going fifth among the top five quarterbacks? We won’t know that until draft night. 

The estimation that Justin Fields could fall out of the top ten is ridiculous to me. All of Fields’s character and work ethic criticisms are absolute hogwash, and his issues on the field are easily correctable with patience and coaching. He needs to see the game faster, but there are plenty of instances where he reads the field at a high level and on time. In other words, he can do it but needs to do it the right way more consistently. He’ll be a good quarterback regardless, but to be truly great, that’s the area he needs to improve. I’d still take him in the top five and wouldn’t think twice about it. 

I will refer to reports from Albert Breer and Jeff Howe on the Gilmore front. Gilmore is open to an extension with the Patriots, and the Patriots aren’t actively seeking a trade at this time. I think both outcomes are still very possible but don’t see the Patriots moving Gilmore unless they select a cornerback early. We ran a mock draft simulation on Thursday night where South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn was our first-round pick. In that scenario, I could see the Patriots flipping Gilmore for another second-rounder.

Of course, Newton could have a bounce-back season. My concerns with Cam were less about accuracy, or dirt balls, or any of those narratives. Instead, I saw a quarterback that was struggling to function quickly enough in a timing-based scheme. Accuracy, as former Pats QB coach Jedd Fisch said, isn’t always about ball placement. Decision-making and timing are also major components to having good accuracy. Cam’s comfort level with the scheme and timing through his reads wasn’t where it needed to be, so his accuracy suffered. In theory, improving in those areas could come with more experience in the system. If Cam’s quarterback computer can catch up with his body, along with improved weapons, then his play will improve. 

Mills is gaining a lot of traction as we get closer to the draft, which means that the NFL has been higher on him all along. I did a Twitter thread on Mills and have a full report in my spreadsheet. He has good size, a very strong arm to win from the pocket, and throws the ball well between the numbers (timing, placement, anticipation). However, he only has 11 career starts, and it shows. Mills had 17 turnover-worthy plays in just two seasons of tape and made some terrible decisions with the football, like throwing the ball directly to defenders as if they were the intended receiver. You can see the natural gifts, and again, he has a good feel for the middle of the field, but he’s a project. I wouldn’t take him until at least the third round and feel he’s similar in many ways to Stidham. Another top High School recruit that had up and down tape in college. 

I’m on board with Darrisaw at 15, but I know that won’t be a popular pick. Darrisaw was a three-year starter, checks all the measurables boxes, has excellent foot speed, and a little nasty in his game. He was routinely blocking linebackers 10-15 yards downfield on climbs to the second level and eclipsing solid pass-rushers with very clean pass sets. He’s a stud at either tackle spot and doesn’t come with the same size issues as Wynn. As far as what to do with Wynn, it depends on the return in a trade. I probably wouldn’t part with him unless you’re getting a top 100 pick back or if he’s a part of a package for a quarterback, but with his durability concerns, that might be too rich for other teams. Keeping Wynn and Brown in place to ease in Darrisaw as they did with Nate Solder is a fine approach. More than likely, one of the two starters gets hurt, and Darrisaw slides in as a rookie, and he’s more than capable of doing so. 

Moore is another prospect, like Mills, that is rising up the media’s board recently. The league is chasing their own version of Tyreek Hill, a speedster at the “Z” receiver spot that can play out of the slot or challenge the defense on schemed touches behind the line of scrimmage. Moore has those traits as a field-stretcher and ball carrier while also showing flashes of nasty change of direction at the top of his routes. The concerns you have with him are size (5-9, 185) and that he won more with explosive athleticism in college than technique. But if you’re scheming him into foot races anyways, then those things don’t matter as much. Some have Moore going in the backend of the first round. If he slides a bit into the second round, then snagging him at 46 would be great. The Patriots don’t currently have a player as dynamic as Moore with the ball in his hands. 

I like the idea of taking two stabs at finding an impact receiver given their track record at the position, but I question if there are two roster spots available for wideouts. The Pats already have Agholor, Bourne, and Meyers as roster locks. Edelman will take up a roster spot if he isn’t on IR, and Gunner will make it as a returner. And then there’s N’Keal Harry. That’s six already. Although Edelman or Harry could theoretically be on the move, it would be tough to justify two premium picks at receiver. Maybe one premium pick and a late-round flier or UDFA, like they did with Meyers and Harry. 

I’m glad someone asked about Bryant. After Patrick Chung’s retirement, I think Bryant has a chance to carve out a larger role than people expect. Bryant showed great coverage skills out of the slot and solid versatility to play certain zone coverage roles (shallow or hook/curl zones, split safety zone). In a lot of ways, they used him in a similar capacity to Chung. He will be in the mix to take reps at safety, both in the slot and the backend. The question with Bryant will always be if he can hold up in the run game at his size. 

McCourty’s recent remarks on his podcast about wanting to feel wanted didn’t bode well for a return. The door is still open, but it appears that the Patriots are waiting to see how the draft plays out before committing to McCourty. If they draft a corner with a premium pick, they don’t have a spot for McCourty. If they don’t, then a return could happen. Based on his comments, McCourty is sensing that he’s a backup plan to the Patriots at the moment. 

I’m absolutely following Hogan’s lacrosse career, and it’s a safe bet that Belichick is following along too. I hope he makes the team and the Cannons play a game at Gillette. I was a laxer in my younger years for those that don’t know, and Erik here was my teammate (and college roommate) for the Ithaca College club team.