Looking back, Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio wasn’t going to tell us anything that we wanted to know about the Patriots draft plans or what players he considered to be marquee.
In fact, going through the whole 25-minute presser, he never once mentioned a player that was actually available in the draft!
However he did illuminate how the Patriots feel about certain positions (favoring wide receivers, running backs, and defensive linemen). But also how, for instance, why it’s so darn hard to figure out certain positions (wide receiver) and how he personally finds sifting through the massive amounts of draft info.
Of the things Caserio said, here is what is sticking with me a day later.
1. No difference with how the Patriots are treating quarterbacks this year — We wrote a couple of weeks ago that the Patriots are visiting with a high number of quarterbacks in the run up to the draft. It gave us the feeling that the Patriots were already working on a succession plan for Tom Brady (more on that later). But specifically, he said there was no difference in the evaluation process for each position.
“I think what we try to do is take each position and really try to know top to bottom as thoroughly as we can, as many players at that position,” Caserio said. “Historically we spend a lot of time this time of the year, whether it’s players that we bring to the stadium, that we work out on campus. The process, I would say, is really no different this year than it was in years past. It’s all with the idea of trying to gain as much information about that position group top to bottom so that when you’re sitting up there looking at ‘X’ amount of players, you have a good baseline of information and it’s not, ‘Well, we haven’t spent enough time.’ The answer isn’t, ‘I don’t know, we haven’t spent enough time with him.’ Look, we can’t get everybody but you try to identify and earmark ‘X’ number of players and then we try to get as much information as we can so that we’re prepared in the event that we have to make a decision at some point along the way.”
2. Is there backup plan for Tom Brady? — Not so much, said to Caserio. At least not a plan that he wanted to share at this time.
“I think right now our focus is just on the draft and trying to improve our team,” he said. “We’ll go through the offseason program once we have the players that are here. I would say we’re focused on the short-term. Like I said, we just started the offseason program. We’ll see how our players, where they are physically once we get on the field, once we start practicing. Right now, I think our focus is on the draft and just trying to improve our football team.”
3. Can the Patriots be gun shy at wide receiver? — Last year the Patriots drafted two wide receivers — Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce — but the word all offseason is that the team has been interested in the receivers in this draft class, which Caserio confirmed himself. But what everyone wants to know (and this could stretch back a few years), is whether the Patriots would take a chance on another wide receiver when they’ve already spent so much in terms of draft picks on them in recent years. This is where Caserio provided a glimpse into the Patriots mindset about stocking positions.
“I think what you don’t want to do is pass on a good football regardless of your circumstances. We’ve talked about this a little bit in years past. When we drafted Nate [Solder], with Matt [Light], we felt like he would be coming back and we had Sebastian [Vollmer]. When we drafted Nate, at the time did we necessarily need to draft that player? Maybe, maybe not. But we felt like that was player that we had conviction about. We felt good about the player and we’d figure out a way to utilize him. You never want to pass up a player. Look, if they are equal value maybe you go to a different position but if there is a good football player and he’s head and shoulders above the rest then internally we just have to make that decision. But you don’t want to pass on a player just because he has a position where there might be numbers or volume or whatever the case may be.”
That’s both good to hear in terms of figuring out the team’s decision making and determining the team’s confidence in a certain player or position.
4. Why, for goodness sake, is it so hard to draft a wide receiver? — The Patriots have had their troubles at drafting the receiver position, which is widely known. Like, we’ve exhausted this conversation. But the book is still out on Dobson and Boyce. So while Caserio acknowledged the difficulties, he tried to help explain how the team projects college players into the wild west of professional football.
“The receiver position in general, there are so many more multiples that are involved which a lot of these players don’t see,” he said. “One of things that’s come into play is the use of the high frequency, high tempo offense. So, you run a play, you sprint to the line and they get a play off within five to 10 seconds. So the player stays in one spot, chances are they are repeating the same play. The complexity of coverages defensively I would say is minimal because you can’t have a lot of calls defensively to combat the pace and the speed of what a team is doing offensively.
“There are definitely more multiples coverage wise that they’re going to see on a week to week basis,” Caserio continued saying. “A lot of the time, the proximity of the defender between himself and the receiver. I would say the number of teams that actually play at the line of scrimmage defensively on a consistent play by play basis is very small. The majority of the time, the defender is five, six, seven yards off so he has free access into the defense so there’s less that he has to deal with at the line of scrimmage. Now you fast forward. I would say the majority of the time you’re going to have a defender in your face at the line of scrimmage on the perimeter or in the slot as well. Inside there are some different components that go into play. There’s just more multiples, there’s more variety of coverages, there’s more disguise. The ability to think quickly and react to what you see, some can do that better than others from the sheer fact they haven’t been asked to do it.”
So you weigh all those variables and then tell me who is the sure thing. We’ll pass along name or names together.
5. The draft is one giant poker game — There’s so much hot air from February to April regarding draft picks, the leanings of each franchise one way or another, and then the millions of mock drafts (yes, we’re succeptible as well), that NFL personnel folks like Caserio have their own hard time sifting through the noise.
“The reality is, nobody really knows other than their respective teams,” he said. “There’s a lot of information that’s out there. I think you just have to be careful of how much stock you actually put into it. You try to make your best guess of what you anticipate a team may or may not do but I’d say there’s probably a lot of noise that’s out there and nobody really knows until the actual draft starts and the team picks. I think that’s the truth.”
The one truth I think we all can take away from Caserio’s comments is that we still have no idea what the Patriots are going to do with the 29th pick. My best guess is that they’ll trade it. What’s yours? Leave it in the comments.
Zuri Berry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry and on Google+.