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Method to the Madness: How Belichick Rules the Draft

Method to the Madness How Belichick Rules the Draft


“Bill Belichick is smart, but sometimes he succeeds just by aiding other teams’ efforts to be stupid.” I’ve said that about Belichick a few times now, and while I wasn’t aware of his scientific credentials at the time, he’s pretty good at exploiting the mistakes that awful football organizations tend to make. Bad teams tend to be conservative on fourth down, and Belichick is one of the more aggressive game managers in football. Bad teams spend heavily in free agency and hold on to their players out of nostalgia far too long, and Belichick is more aggressive than anybody with his personnel. Ask Logan Mankins.

Perhaps the most common characteristic of bad organizations is that they make a habit of giving away draft picks to trade up and acquire a player with an earlier selection. It’s almost always a strong sign that they simply don’t understand the game at hand. The evidence suggests the NFL draft is most likely a crapshoot, so even if your team’s draft board has a first-round grade on a player left in the middle of the second round, chances are that the rest of the league is right and you’re wrong. Teams do trade up and succeed, of course, in the same way that a drunk blackjack player hits on 16 against a five and wins sometimes, but it’s not an optimal strategy.

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Even if the NFL draft is a crapshoot, Belichick seems to draft better than most.

Is it because he's luckier? No, it's because he's better at spreading his bets around.

He doesn't just understand the game of football. He understands the BUSINESS of football.

By my count, the Patriots have made 48 trades solely involving draft picks during Belichick’s reign in New England. When you add up the expected return for each of those trades, what Belichick has accomplished has been staggering. I’m not including trades in which the Patriots traded draft picks for a player or vice versa, although I suspect that Belichick has gotten the better of those deals, too. It also doesn’t include the aforementioned value from the compensatory picks or the 2015 fourth-rounder he acquired from Tampa Bay in the Logan Mankins trade.

Strictly in terms of the draft-pick deals he has made, Belichick has acquired 80.6 points of Approximate Value. That’s like Belichick getting the first overall pick, the second overall pick, and the 19th overall pick for nothing. Or if you prefer, it’s like he’s been handed the 99th overall pick in each of his 15 drafts just for showing up and saying yes to overanxious teams.

Seattle Seahawks also know first round draft picks are overrated:

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