It is rare for a team to draft three or more players from the same school. The only other team to do so in the 2013 draft was the Miami Dolphins, who drafted three players from Florida.
At least Florida won 11 games last season while playing in the nation’s best conference (SEC) and with arguably the nation’s toughest schedule.
Rutgers, on the other hand, went 9-4 while playing in a significantly weaker football conference (Big East) and never playing a ranked opponent all year. The allure of those Scarlet Knights players is further diminished by the fact that Schiano did not draft of his own players for the Buccaneers.
When asked about drafting three Rutgers players following the draft, Belichick didn’t hide the fact that it was influenced by Schiano, according to the post-draft press conference transcript on the Patriots’ official website:
“I’ve known Coach Schiano for quite a while. I’d say the players he recruits and the program he runs is in a lot of ways similar to what we do. So the fact that he’s recruited those kids four to five years ahead of when they come into this league and they’ve been in a program that’s, in a lot of ways, probably similar to ours, then it’s probably not that surprising that we would like some of the kids he’s produced, both talent-wise and total makeup.”
The Patriots made another trade with the Buccaneers late in the 2013 NFL draft, sending running back Jeff Demps and a seventh-round pick for running back LeGarrette Blount. In another somewhat unusual move, the Patriots claimed Akeem Shavers, an undrafted free agent running back from Purdue, off waivers Tuesday one day after he was waived by the Buccaneers.
Belichick, Schiano and members of their coaching staffs are also reportedly meeting with one another this month to discuss “coaching topics and techniques,” according to Sports Illustrated. The two teams will also be meeting for a third consecutive year of joint practices before the two teams meet in the preseason. The latter would not typically be unusual, except for the fact that the teams will also meet in Week 3 of the regular season.
The Belichick-Schiano resource-sharing relationship looks stronger than ever.
It’s not that Bill Belichick’s strategy isn’t sensible. It makes sense to draft players who were taught by an NFL coach and ran a defensive scheme similar to what the Patriots run, which will make it easier for them to acclimate and contribute early.
Still, the strategy of drafting players based upon collegiate coaching and schematic ties is an unusual one.
It is rare even for coaches who came directly from the collegiate ranks to draft many of their own players — neither Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone nor Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly drafted any of the players they coached directly last season, at Syracuse and Oregon respectively.
If they do not see the value in drafting players they have directly coached, why should Belichick do it when the only person on the Patriots’ staff with direct experience working with them is a coaching assistant?
There was a time where we may have simply written this off as an instance of Belichick knowing more than his peers, and if he proves right on his questionable draft strategy, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time.
Keep in mind, however, that two of the NFL’s en vogue teams are both coached by former collegiate coaches. 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll both ran similar schemes at Stanford and USC, respectively, as they do in the NFL.
Harbaugh’s 49ers have drafted no Stanford players in his first three drafts. Carroll’s Seahawks have drafted just two USC players, none before the sixth round, in his first four drafts.
The Patriots won’t have the option of selecting Schiano’s players in many more drafts — the 2014 NFL draft could be the final draft featuring many Rutgers players who worked closely with Schiano and Belichick — but this is not exactly a new strategy for the Patriots.
Belichick has been known to draft players in numbers from programs whose coaches he has strong relationships with — Nick Saban’s Alabama and Urban Meyer’s Florida come to mind — and although those players came from stronger talent pools than Rutgers, it may be time to move on from this strategy if it results in passing upon value.
The Patriots have often been trend setters in the draft. Many other teams have followed the Patriots’ lead in trading down to acquire more picks for future value, notably the 49ers and the Cleveland Browns. Browns general manager Michael Lombardi previously worked as Belichick’s director of player personnel from 1992-1995 — the same role as Caserio — when both were with the Browns.
In this case, it’s time for the Patriots to follow the lead of their colleagues, and not just Schiano’s Buccaneers. Rather than focusing upon what coach each player had in college, they should focus on drafting the best talent for Belichick and the coaching staff to mold.