Patriots

Bill Belichick's best Patriots draft picks reflect elements of himself

/ by Michael Holley
Presented By DraftKings
Patriots

Bill Belichick should find a mirror this week.

Stare at it. Talk to it. Sing Bon Jovi into it. Glam for it. Anything he wants. Just Belichick and that glass, private time to remind the man in the mirror exactly what happens when he’s at the peak of his draft-day game.

Simply, he’s himself.

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Belichick has overseen 20 drafts in New England. There’s a thread connecting his best pick per round since he’s been here, from first-rounder to mid-rounder to undrafted free agent. All eight players represent a distinct dimension of the man who selected them. This week’s draft will be Belichick’s most important in a generation. If it also happens to be his most authentic, he’ll skip a rebuild. Instead, we’ll watch as he passes the dynasty heirloom to sons Steve and Brian.

Let’s take a round-by-round look at what it means to be Bill Belichick.

Round 1, Pick 6, 2001 — Richard Seymour

It’s fitting that Belichick chose defensive lineman Richard Seymour with his initial first-round pick.

Seymour, the son of a builder, often went to work with his father. He knew about early mornings in the South Carolina sun, laying bricks and perfecting sand-to-water ratios as he mixed concrete. The activities strengthened his hands and his resolve.

The Belichick-Seymour alignment was uncanny: While Seymour was at Georgia, Belichick and others were in New England rewriting the Patriots’ scouting manual. Of his ideal defensive lineman, the new Patriots coach wrote that he “must play with strong, fast hands” and explained that, essentially, the player must be a human building block.

 

After a 5-11 season, Belichick looked over his draft board with his staff. They did their rankings and reached a best-player consensus: Seymour. One builder recognizing another.

Round 2, Pick 42, 2010 — Rob Gronkowski

I’ve often heard it suggested that Rob Gronkowski and Belichick should clash. Too much seriousness in one, too much silliness in the other.

It’s a fair analysis that misses two big points. One is that Belichick has a major tight end obsession (which makes last season’s void there so strange). Starting in Cleveland, he spent 15 years looking for someone like Gronk until he finally found the original.

The other thing? He can comfortably talk football mismatches and non-football adventures with Gronk.

He signed up for police ride-alongs years before Kevin Hart pretended to in the movies. He’s put on medical scrubs and observed surgeries. When scouting Eric Turner, a 210-pound safety, he wanted to feel the hard hits; he asked Turner to pop him — which he did. He’s jumped on karaoke stages to perform Springsteen and Bon Jovi. That actually is him on TV talking about the best way to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Round 3, Pick 78, 2016 — Joe Thuney

In retrospect, we all should have predicted that Joe Thuney would be drafted by the Patriots.

Let’s see: skilled, durable offensive lineman who is always going to be one of the smartest players on the field. Felger and Mazz should have rigged their Big Board to ensure that a dart landed on Thuney.

By Draft Day, Thuney had a degree in accounting that he earned in three years; another degree in international affairs; and a minor in Spanish. Supposedly, he intentionally answered a few things incorrectly on the Wonderlic because he didn’t want to come off as too smart. He’s been a starter his entire four-year career, which has had the following endings: Super Bowl win, Super Bowl loss, Super Bowl win, Wild-Card loss.

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Round 4, Pick 120, 2003 — Asante Samuel

A few weeks before the Patriots drafted Asante Samuel, they sent one of their young coaches to Florida to work him out.

The coach, Josh McDaniels, returned with a positive report, with two items that got Belichick’s attention: Samuel lived for game day, and he thrived in the biggest games.

Many Patriots fans, still angry at Samuel for a dropped Super Bowl pick in 2007, have minimized just how good he was. He studied Ty Law so closely that Belichick once asked Law not to do certain techniques in practice; the sponge Samuel might try them prematurely.

McDaniels was right about him. Thirty-nine players in league history have 50 or more interceptions. Samuel is one of them.

 

Round 5, Pick 153, 2008 — Matthew Slater

Has anyone mastered the specificity of "Do Your Job" more than Matthew Slater?

He was drafted, solely, to play special teams. He’s done that his entire career and has made eight Pro Bowls, more than anyone in his draft class.

His approach to it has raised the level of everyone, players and coaches alike, around him. Put any title by his name post-football — Sen., Esq., Rev. — and he’ll excel in the role. 

Round 6, Pick 199, 2000 — Tom Brady

My favorite Tom Brady comparison, still, is one made years ago by former Patriots coach Rob Ryan. He said that having Brady on the field is like having Belichick there, with the only difference being “Brady has a better arm.”

I remember asking Belichick about Brady when the quarterback was in his third year. He pulled out a piece of paper, and then another, and spent the next 30 minutes illustrating play after play of what most quarterbacks see and how Brady sees something else.

“That (expletive) is so smart,’’ he concluded.

I remember observing a scouting exchange between the two. When Belichick left the room, Brady said, “He’s pretty (expletive) smart, isn’t he?”

Obviously, this is the greatest value pick in football history, if not the greatest pick period.

Consider the contrast: JaMarcus Russell (2007), Sam Bradford (2010), Andrew Luck (2012), and Jameis Winston (2015) were all quarterbacks drafted first overall. The first three are out of football, and the 26-year-old Winston just had his job taken by Brady.

Round 7, Pick 232, 2009 — Julian Edelman

Julian Edelman is the extreme example of what Belichick means when he talks about position versatility. In his career, Edelman has thrown it, caught it, defended it, and returned it.

There have been some remarkable receivers here over the years, Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Troy Brown among them. Edelman called two of them teammates.

It’s stunning, given his collegiate journey and draft position, that he’ll likely emerge from that group as the top pass-catcher in team history.

Undrafted Free Agent, 2014 — Malcolm Butler

All sides of the Malcolm Butler story, from magic to mystery, are all sides of Belichick as well.

I’ll be a real, grown up reporter one day if I can ever crack the code of what happened in the lead up to Super Bowl 52. It’s still incomprehensible to me that Butler played as much as we did, while Johnson Bademosi and Jordan Richards actually played as miserably as we would have.

That’s the mystery.

The magic is that no one would have known about Butler if Belichick hadn’t found him and played him in Super Bowl 49. An undrafted player, who had recently been employed by Popeye's, made the best play in Super Bowl history. Then added a Pro Bowl season and All-Pro season to the postscript. Just saying it aloud sounds like a lie, and you know it’s not.

Yes, Belichick is fallible. He should embrace it. All the brilliance and stubbornness and originality of who he is. If he’s completely himself, he might pull off the best draft of his life. 

 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of the NFL Draft. This Wednesday at 5 p.m., stream the NBC Sports On the Clock: NFL Mock Draft special on the MyTeams app and on NBCSportsBoston.com.