New England Patriots

Four insights from Eliot Wolf's intriguing Patriots press conference

It sounds like Wolf will run a much different operation than Bill Belichick.

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In Jerod Mayo's first press conference as New England Patriots head coach last month, he emphasized how differently he'd run the team than his predecessor, Bill Belichick.

The same goes for Eliot Wolf in the front office, it appears.

Wolf, who is officially listed as the Patriots' director of scouting but is the team's de facto front office leader, spoke to reporters for the first time Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. The 41-year-old executive fielded questions on several hot-button issues, such as New England's plans for the No. 3 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, the futures of Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe, and his philosophy when it comes to roster-building.

Here are Wolf's most notable comments from Tuesday's press conference and what they tell us about how the Patriots will execute their most important offseason of the century.

A new player evaluation system

Say goodbye to the "Patriot Way" and hello to the "Packer Way."

Wolf, who spent 14 seasons in the Packers' front office from 2004 to 2017, revealed the Patriots have changed their draft grading system to more closely resemble what he used in Green Bay.

"It's a little bit more similar to what we did in Green Bay," Wolf said. "The previous Patriots system was more 'this is what the role is' and this is kind of value-based. So, it makes it a lot easier for scouts to rate guys and put them in a stack of 'this guy is the best; this guy is the worst' and everything in between falls into place, rather than more nuanced approaches. I just think it accounts value better and it makes it easier for the scouts."

A change to the grading system is a significant development entering a draft in which New England owns its highest pick since 1993 and three selections in the top 70. The Patriots under Belichick often had vastly different grades for draft prospects than other teams (see: Cole Strange in 2022), but it sounds like that could change under Wolf.

Youth movement?

The mid-2000s Packers prided themselves on building through the draft by developing homegrown talent, and Wolf wants to instill that same philosophy in New England.

"I think there is going to be a little bit more reliance on playing young players," Wolf said when asked how his system could differ from Belichick's previous regime. "I think it's really important to play young players and develop from within."

The Patriots aren't exactly flush with young talent after some spotty recent drafts, but Wolf's comments suggest promising players like wide receiver DeMario Douglas, defensive end Keion White and cornerback Christian Gonzalez could be prioritized in 2024.

And if you're of the belief that New England should draft a quarterback at No. 3, Wolf's vision certainly would align with drafting and developing a franchise QB, similar to what Green Bay did with Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love.

Setting expectations at QB

So, about that No. 3 pick... Wolf seems bullish on the 2024 draft class at quarterback, which is led by Caleb Williams, Drake Maye and Jayden Daniels but also includes Bo Nix, Michael Penix Jr. and J.J. McCarthy.

“I think it’s a really good year for quarterbacks,” Wolf said. “One thing about the quarterbacks in this draft, specifically, that I’m excited about is, they all look like they’re really tough guys, which is obviously great at any position but the quarterback position especially."

When asked what he's looking for in a quarterback, Wolf emphasized intangibles like leadership and body language in addition to strong physical traits.

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"First of all, being someone that can elevate his teammates, someone that your teammates want to play for,” Wolf said. “I think that’s an extremely underrated thing that people don’t really talk about that much.

"... Body language on the field is very important at that position. You don’t want a guy that’s throwing his hands up after a bad play, or you can you can see him physically pointing at somebody. Body language is important, everybody’s looking to the quarterback."

Considering body language has been an issue for Mac Jones during his brief Patriots tenure, it's hard to see him being part of New England's future at QB despite having one year remaining on his contract. Wolf said there's "a lot of options on the table" regarding Jones and backup Bailey Zappe but declined to elaborate.

"We’re not going to be a program that’s talking about these guys in terms of through the media," Wolf added. "We’re going to do what’s best for the team behind the scenes and the strategy of that is going to be myself, [head coach] Jerod Mayo and [director of player personnel] Matt Groh."

Director of Scouting Eliot Wolf shares how the team plans to address the quarterback position this offseason and whether or not it's a good idea to bring a rookie into a 'difficult' situation with so many roster holes currently on the offensive side of the ball.

Will Onwenu be a priority in free agency?

Offensive lineman Mike Onwenu and safety Kyle Dugger are the Patriots' two most important pending free agents, and Wolf wants to keep both in New England -- but spoke especially highly of Onwenu.

"Mike’s a core player for us," Wolf said. "It’s no secret that we want to try and keep Mike. It’ll just be a little bit of a wrinkle dealing with him. Mike’s really smart, he’s introspective, he’s thoughtful and he knows what he wants; which is always great when you’re dealing with a player. He’s certainly someone that we view as a cornerstone for us."

Onwenu (who recently parted ways with his agent) and Dugger both are eligible for the franchise tag or could work out long-term deals with the Patriots. Wolf suggested he's open to whatever it takes to keep both player around.

"I would say that all options are on the table," Wolf added. "We definitely want to keep Mike and Kyle, and we’re hopeful to continue to work with Kyle’s agent and Mike to make that happen."

Patriots Director of Scouting Eliot Wolf discusses the team's desire to re-sign impending free agents Mike Onwenu and Kyle Dugger.
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