Few will argue Bill Belichick is the best head coach in NFL history, but you might get a few sideways looks if you talk up his work as a general manager.
Belichick is the de facto general manager, and the team hasn’t drafted a Pro-Bowler since 2013 when they selected Jamie Collins in the second round. One of the most significant recent draft failures for the New England Patriots came in 2019 when the team whiffed on its first-round selection.
Belichick had never drafted a wide receiver in the first round but seemingly fell in love with Arizona State-product, N’Keal Harry. According to a recent report from Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, Belichick ignored the adverse reports from his scouts on Harry, who preferred two other receivers. Instead, Belichick leaned on the strength of a personal relationship and their recommendation.
Breer broke down the situation, which seemingly highlights a problematic area in the Patriots’ scouting and draft-preparation process.
Where most teams had draft meetings with their scouts in February and April, the Patriots would have theirs with scouts in December and February. And at that early point, it’s tough to set the board, with two and a half months of information still to come. So from there on, the scouts would just be gatherers, which frustrated plenty of them, and played into the exodus in the scouting department the last few years. It also, as some saw it, led to misses like N’Keal Harry in 2019. Harry killed his 30 visit that spring and had a college coach, Todd Graham, who was close to Belichick. In that end, without more input from scouts who preferred Deebo Samuel and A.J. Brown, the coach wound up leaning on his own experience with Harry, rather than the red flags his scouts planted, and lost a golden opportunity to fill a hole on his roster.
Harry has totaled just 45 receptions for 414 yards and 4 TDs in two disappointing seasons with the Patriots, for those who aren’t aware. Meanwhile, Samuels, selected four picks later by the San Francisco 49ers, has 90 receptions for 1,193 yards and 4 TDs. Brown has been even better.
He’s made a Pro Bowl, tallied 122 receptions, 2,126 yards, and 19 TDs after being selected 21 picks after Harry.
Changes Coming in the Draft Process
No one can accuse Belichick of being too stubborn to change.
The Patriots didn’t make the playoffs last season for the first time in nearly a decade. The team owner, Robert Kraft, even brought the team’s draft futility up during a recent meeting with the media.
According to Breer’s report, the Patriots’ draft process in 2021 will be more of a collaborative effort featuring input from the director of player personnel Dave Ziegler, front office consultant Eliot Wolf, and scout Matt Groh.
Is the Story Written for Harry?
Harry is headed into his third season, and there have been rumblings of teams having an interest in trading for the talented but underachieving 23-year-old. Harry was recently in California working out with Cam Newton and some of the newly signed Patriots.
New England would love to see Harry emerge as a legit factor, but if he doesn’t show some significant improvement in training camp, he might not be on the Week 1 roster. New England will likely draft at least one receiver, so the position could become crowded. Without Harry showing some improvement, he could be one of the odd men out.