Last year around this time, we had a nice little Patriots-related draft nugget dropped onto our timelines when former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah tweeted out a few pages of a 1990s scouting guide from the Browns organization.
Running the Browns at the time? Bill Belichick.
Jeremiah, now NFL Media's lead draft analyst, worked as a scout for the Ravens who of course were born out of the Browns organization. Somehow in the exchange of information over Jeremiah's years in Baltimore, he'd come across this wish list of traits that told scouts what Belichick wanted at each position on the field.
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The fun part for us now is we can look at the wish list every year and try to peg players who look like fits based on the criteria Belichick laid out. Understanding the criteria has likely changed multiple times in the last 30 years, understanding that not everyone on this list is the ultimate example of a Prototypical Patriot, the information still applies.
When we looked at offensive fits based on this Browns scouting checklist, we highlighted both Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene as the two best fits at tight end. Both ended up being taken by the Patriots in the third round. We also highlighted guard Robert Hunt as being the best fit among interior offensive linemen, and he ended up in Miami playing for former Patriots assistant Brian Flores.
Here we'll go position-by-position, spell out what Belichick was looking for back in the day, then name a prospect from this year's class who seems to fit the description.
New England Patriots
Let's get to it...
Belichick's offensive line wish list
Big guys who are strong, powerful players. Guys who have the frame to get bigger. Knock someone off the ball and keep defenders on [the line of scrimmage] vs. pass. Big guards vs. 3-4 LBs. OTs who can get their hands on people. Not necessarily have to be great athletes due to [the] quick five-step passing game. Can use a slightly dumber guy who is a good athlete. He needs to be able to block the right guy. Need to recognize fronts and be smart enough to block the right guy. Guys who get penalized a lot are not what we want. Big. Strong. Physical. Nasty. Smart.
Tackle: Dillon Radunz, North Dakota State
Radunz has the size (6-6, 301 pounds, 34-inch arms) part down. At least from a length perspective. But he also has "the frame to get bigger" at the next level. Still, even if he's light relative to other linemen, he has the power to knock people off the ball and the athleticism to mirror athletic pass-rushers. He showed as much by being named the best overall player during the week of practices at the Senior Bowl. Former Patriots scout and current Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy believes Radunz might be "the best combination of athlete and nasty in this year's OL class."
Interior: Quinn Meinerz, Wisconsin-Whitewater
Let's stick with Senior Bowl stars along the interior of the offensive line, shall we? Meinerz may hail from the Division III ranks, but there's nothing in Belichick's description about level of competition. Plus, Meinerz answered those questions by bullying people in Mobile. At 6-3, 320 pounds and with excellent movement skills to generate pop at the line of scrimmage, Meinerz works here.
Belichick's tight end wish list
No. 1 has to be a catcher, Ozzie Newsome, Keither Jackson types. Don't need the offensive line type guy in a TE's jersey. Take what we can get from him on the blocking. Just get in the way and tie up. We can work around his blocking ability. Catch, run, block. No. 2 or 3 TE needs to be the blocker for situational running situations. Can also use the in-betweener, not quite a TE but not fast enough to be a wideout (Novacek/Houlihan type guy). A 6-3, 235 minimum type guy. Needs to be big enough to get in the way. Good measure of TE is also what he does with the ball after the catch. Don't let the lack of blocking ability eliminate a good player.
Top tight end: Pat Freiermuth, Penn State
It's a weak tight end class after Florida superstar Kyle Pitts. (He would be the ideal fit here -- as he would be for any team -- but we decided to go elsewhere just to highlight another name who may be a more realistic option for the Patriots on draft weekend.) The next player at the position may not be selected until the third round, according to one AFC tight ends coach. It should be Freiermuth, in part because he can do everything Belichick asks for: "Catch, run, block." Is he the fastest guy in the class? No shot. But he moves well enough, and "what he does with the ball after the catch" is special at times. He broke 12 tackles on 66 catches over the last two seasons.
Second tight end: Tommy Tremble, Notre Dame
Tremble may be the best when it comes to that "in-betweener" mold Belichick told his Browns staff to look for. He weighed in at 241 pounds at his pro day, then 248 pounds at the combine. He's not a bear of a man who will just lean on people at the line of scrimmage or kill them with his length as a receiver. He may end up as a Kyle Jusczcyk type at the next level -- play everywhere, block like a maniac, catch it every so often. That means there will be a lot on his plate at the next level, and teams are trying to discern whether or not he'll be able to handle that type of volume. But his athleticism, toughness and willingness to go all-out to debilitate his opponents as a blocker could entice a team like the Patriots.
Belichick's running back wish list
[Kevin] Mack is ideal, tuff inside, north/south guy. Has enough to bounce it outside. Needs to be able to catch the ball. Has to be able to step up and take on the blitz. Also need a third-down back like Metcalf and also a short-yardage/goal-line back (could be your starter or just a situational type guy, can also be a special teams guy). Needs to be smart enough to block the right guy on the blitz. Also need a smart guy who can block and can catch, not have to be a runner necessarily. ([Tom] Rathman type).
Top running back: Najee Harris, Alabama
Tough inside. Gets downhill quickly. Has enough juice to bounce it outside (and then hurdle defenders if needed). Can catch it. Harris is the top name on our list of Prototypical Patriots backs. He would've been a Prototypical Browns running back in the 90s, too. He ran for over 6.0 yards per carry in 2018, and then when his workload doubled in each of the last two seasons he was still able to keep that figure up at about 6.0 (5.9 in 2019, 5.8 in 2020). Plus, he's reeled in 70 passes each of the last two seasons.
Third down running back: Kylin Hill, Mississippi State
Hill might not be quite as big as Rathman was, but at 5-10, 214 pounds he's well proportioned for a third-down back. He has 63 catches over the last three seasons and he was the highest-graded pass-protector among running backs at this year's Senior Bowl.
Belichick's receiver wish list
No. 1 has to be able to get off [the line of scrimmage] whether with size, speed, quicks or any combination of the three, then has to be able to catch. Can improve hands to some degree. Has to be able to run disciplined routes, not necessarily smart, just disciplined, have to get where they're going and [know] how they're getting there. Cannot do his own thing. Receiver needs good running ability after the catch, want to hit the receivers on the run and let them run with the ball either over, elude or by with speed. Speed only enters the equation in relation to players' ability to escape the line of scrimmage. Good leap and timing are more important than speed. Need good upper body strength and quickness. Frail guy without good quickness is dead. A mismatch type guy, quick, elusive, big physical type guy or any combo of those qualities can be your third receiver.
Receiver: Simi Fehoko, Stanford
This one came as a bit of a surprise, but when you go through the traits Belichick wants... Fehoko fits. Few receivers burst off the line of scrimmage in this class the way Fehoko does. And he has the ability to do so with all three qualities Belichick highlights: He has all the size (6-4, 222 pounds), speed (4.44-second 40) and quickness (6.78-second three-cone drill) you could ever want. He's leaping ability isn't off-the-charts great, but at his height a 34.5-inch vertical is plenty. He's anything but "frail," and while he's not the most refined route-runner in the class he's a bit of a blank slate as far as that goes. He only had one (shortened) season as a starter last year and with more experience there's no doubt he should be able to run the kind of routes Belichick expects to see from a Day 2 or early Day 3 pick.
Belichick's quarterback wish list
No. 1 is to make good decisions. Then arm, size, physically tough, leadership, guys look up to and have confidence in. A real competitor. Accurate rather than a guy with a cannon. Emphasis on our game will be on decision, timing, accuracy. Guy needs to be confident. Intelligence is important, but not as much so as field awareness and judgement. Can't be sloppy fundamentally unsound guy with ball-handling, [techniques], etc. Footwork, drops, release, etc. Quarterback has to be able to throw the ball with accuracy.
Quarterback: Mac Jones, Alabama
This one is relatively easy. Jones is arguably the most accurate passer in the class as well as one of the best and quickest decision-makers. The fact that Belichick mentions "arm" early in his description could be a concern for Jones fans, but when it comes to being "a real competitor," fundamentally sound and accurate (a trait Belichick must have mentioned twice to hammer it home), Jones makes sense. The guy had to compete with Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa just to get on the field before winning a National Championship last season. And he did it all for Belichick's defensive coordinator in Cleveland during that stretch in the 90s: Nick Saban.