Tracking the history of Patriots second-round picks under Bill Belichick is a fascinating exercise.
They made one of the best second-round selections in the history of the league when they drafted a tight end with a bad back out of the University of Arizona in 2010. In 2011, they grabbed a pass-catching back who played a key role in helping the team win its fourth Super Bowl. They also snagged a little-known but incredibly athletic future Pro Bowl linebacker out of Southern Mississippi in the second round back in 2013.
On the other side of the second round return-on-investment spectrum from Rob Gronkowski, Shane Vereen and Jamie Collins, however, are players like Terrence Wheatley (2008), Jermaine Cunningham (2010) and Ras-I Dowling (2011).
Since the Patriots have two second-rounders this year -- No. 60 and 61 -- it's worth revisitng how the team perceives second-round talents and how that perception may drive their strategy when it comes to picking players in that round. Belichick told Michael Holley for Holley's book, The War Room, that the second round is where the results can be even more mercurial than they are in the rest of the seven-round crap shoot that is the draft.
"In the second round you find a lot of players with first-round talent but not first-round performance or production," Belichick told Holley. "The highest bust factor is in the second."
The Patriots have shown in the past that they're willing to take chances in the second. In the case of recently-released defensive tackle Dominique Easley, they rolled the dice at the end of the first.
Given that the team doesn't have a first-rounder in this year's draft, Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio was asked if their second-round strategy will be at all altered.
"I don't really think it really changes the overall philosphy," Caserio said. "It's still really the same process. The reality is our process really hasn't changed this year relative to what we've done previous years. We have the picks that we have.
"We go through a similar process. We grade the players, and then we'll evaluate the players, and then we'll look up there and see, 'OK, at the time that we pick, whenever that may be, we see what one player may look like relative to another."
Caserio briefly got into how the Patriots examine their draft board on draft day and how this year will be like any other despite the fact that there is no first-round pick anchoring their rookie class.
"You're working vertically by position, and then you start to work across positions," he said. "Then just weight those particular players. It could be one position versus another, offensive player versus a defensive player. Then you may go back and look at your team and say, 'OK, this maybe makes a little more sense,' or, 'We think if we pick this now we can get this particular player later.' It all depends on the overall composition of the draft. You never really know how they're going to come off, but you have to make some kind of estimation on what makes the most sense."
Caserio emphasized that every selection carries some risk and that there's no designated time in which to gamble. Whether it's the second round or any other time, the team relies on its grading system to help them make the right choice.
"It's really relative to whatever else you may be looking at at the time when you pick," Caserio said. "You grade the player for who the player is, you evalaute his play. We have a system in place that sort of earmarks so that we know whether it's an injury issue, wheteher it's a character issue, whatever the alert may be. You evaluate the player numerically, you assign a grade, and then you just figure out based on relative to whatever else is available at the time that you pick, and then you just have to make the decision that makes the most sense for your team.
"Bill's talked about this, how it's a broad mosaic of things that goes into the player. It's never one particular thing that you're evaluating, you're evaluating an entire body of work over the course of three, four years, however long the player's been in school. You assign a value to the player with a grade, and then you'll just look across relative to the other players at whatever position you may be picking, and in the end, you try to pick the players off how you think they're going to come off."