The New England Patriots emphasized continuity and consistency while building the NFL's greatest dynasty. But a lot has changed in the past 13 months, and it appears Bill Belichick is trying to adapt.
The Patriots head coach shared insight Thursday into how his staff is preparing for the 2021 NFL Draft in a unique offseason that didn't have an NFL Scouting Combine but welcomed the return of college pro days after the events were cancelled last year due to COVID-19.
"The draft process has been a little bit different this year," Belichick told reporters in a video conference. "We didn't have the Indianapolis combine, but we did have some opportunities at pro days, so that made it a little bit different. But in the end, we've accumulated a lot of information."
Notably, Belichick also shared who is involved in the draft process -- a list that includes the recently-hired Matt Patricia.
"Matt rejoined us and has been heavily involved in the process, and (assistant director of player personnel) Dave Ziegler, (front office executive) Eliot Wolf and (national scout) Matt Groh have really carried the ball on this," Belichick said.
"They've done a ton of work and their respective staffs that they oversee, as well. But in particular, those three guys have done a tremendous amount of work, evaluation and organization and done a great job of putting things together."
Patriots owner Robert Kraft recently suggested his team is taking a "different approach" to this year's draft, with the MMQB's Albert Breer reporting that Belichick is being "more collaborative" by listening to more voices in the building. Following the departure of Nick Caserio, the Patriots' former director of player personnel, that certainly appears to be the case.
Belichick also was asked about Kraft's criticism of New England's draft track record, which included the not-so-subtle line, "I don’t feel we’ve done the greatest job the last few years."
Here's how the Patriots coach responded:
"We’re always looking to get better. Always try to evaluate everything we do and try to find a better way to do it. ... There were some things last year that were unique to the draft process. As I mentioned, some of those are similar this year, some are a little bit different.
"So we certainly used some of that experience to improve the process a little bit this year -- at least I felt we improved it this year. But ultimately, we're still going to try to evaluate the players and make the decisions that we feel like are best for the football team. We'll continue to do that. ... I don't think the mission has changed."
Belichick addressed many of the team's needs in free agency but still faces some crucial decisions in April's Draft, namely whether to trade up from the No. 15 pick to land an elite quarterback like Justin Fields, Trey Lance or Mac Jones.
While the ongoing pandemic complicates the Patriots' scouting process, perhaps their "different" approach will help them adapt more easily.
"It's a little less information than you may normally have, but all teams are working with the same general information," Belichick said.
"... But the evaluation is definitely different, no question about it. We've had a lot of conversations about it."