The NFL looks a lot different in 2023 than it did in 2000.
When Bill Belichick first took over as head coach and general manager of the New England Patriots, he built a hard-nosed team that found success with a strong running game and a bruising defense. In the modern game, however, there's a much greater emphasis on the passing attack, with teams valuing speed on both sides of the ball.
A different game means different priorities in the NFL Draft. Former Patriots executive and Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff has seen those priorities shift first-hand, and he offered his unique perspective on how teams approach the draft differently during a new Patriots Talk Podcast with Tom E. Curran.
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"Back in the day, you had a lot of people that were like, 'This is how you do it. You never draft a running back this high,' or 'You never draft a receiver (this high).' God forbid you move up (to take) a guy like Julio Jones. Believe me, I was skewered for that (in Atlanta).
"But what I realized as we were moving through the mid 2000s, 10s, 15s, 20s, is that people are now taking who they believe are the best players. They're not going back and saying, 'Historically, you don't take this position or that position.' It's what is best for your damn team now.'"
New England Patriots
Dimitroff, who was the Patriots' director of college scouting from 2003 to 2007 before serving as Falcons GM from 2008 to 2020, said Belichick and his staff were actually ahead of the curve in that aspect while he was in New England.
"We were taught by Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli: 'You know your organization better than anyone. You take the person that is the best for that organization,'" Dimitroff said. "And I really do believe that's something that a lot of GMs are doing now."
That strategy has its pros and cons, of course: The Patriots found gems in the likes of offensive guard Ty Warren and tight end Benjamin Watson, who were seen as reaches at the time. But they've also whiffed on plenty of early-round picks who perhaps could have been had in the later rounds (N'Keal Harry and Domonique Easley, to name just two).
Dimitroff says the key to a successful draft is targeting players who are the best fit for your team -- but not going out of your way to pick them too early.
"I'm telling you: Drafts are driven by need," Dimitroff added. "Every mistake that any GM is going to tell you about, it's because of over need reaching. I can't believe how many times I've seen that where people have just been reaching and saying, 'We need a guy to get to the quarterback,' or, 'We need the quarterback.'
"There's a lot of mistakes made that way. I think you have to sit back, take a deep breath and understand what you have."