Daniel Jeremiah stumbled upon a gem a couple years ago. In the middle of some spring cleaning, he found a set of notes he was given during a "scout school" session during his time with the Baltimore Ravens. Now the lead draft analyst for NFL Network, they were notes Jeremiah was happy to rediscover.
Compiled by scout Dom Anile, who'd previously worked for the Browns under head coach Bill Belichick, the notes were dated Feb. 13, 1991. In those sentences and paragraphs chock full of scout speak were position-by-position traits of what Belichick wanted his staff to be looking for as their roster was built.
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Jeremiah tweeted out the offensive notes and shared the defensive ones on his "Move the Sticks" podcast. We'll lay out the podcast transcription at each defensive position for you here, then provide a player who fits the description.
One historical note before we dive in...
The 1991 offseason was Belichick's first with the Browns after finishing the 1990 season as defensive coordinator with the Giants. Belichick used a 3-4 style defense as a coordinator. In Cleveland, he hired Nick Saban, who preferred a 4-3 style scheme, to be his defensive coordinator. That '91 team ended up using a 4-3 defense.
New England Patriots
But in February of that year -- when these notes were compiled by Anile -- it looks like that front-seven decision hadn't yet been made. In fact, the very day these notes were taken (Feb. 13) was the same day Saban announced he was leaving his post as Toledo head coach to join the Browns. Saban might not have been given the keys to the Cleveland defense just yet.
All that is to say that it seems as though Belichick had a 3-4 defense in mind when he held this meeting, detailed by Anile, with his scouts.
The giveaway? Belichick purportedly refers to good outside linebackers as guys who can "stay on the line." Those are the edge defenders in a 3-4. (In a 4-3, "Sam" and "Will" outside linebackers play off the line.)
Also, in a 3-4 scheme, a defensive end is someone who generally plays over an offensive tackle and is built like Ty Warren or Richard Seymour -- around 300 pounds with good length. Keep that in mind when we hit the "outside linebacker" and "defensive end" position groups below.
In the podcast, Jeremiah first read off some general defensive thoughts from the notes.
"Defense: Defend the middle of the field first. Do not allow offense to run or pass inside. Pressure on the QB up the middle. Force them to go outside. Make sure you have a third-down cover LB or sixth DB to match up on the (Eric) Metcalfs of the world, etc."
Then the meeting shifted to desired positional traits.
Belichick wish list at defensive tackle/nose tackle
"DT/NT: Inside guys need explosive quickness and can play well in a fairly confined space," Jeremiah said, reading from his notes. "Explode, power, quickness, leverage. If he's big and has explosive quickness, it's what you want. 4.8 speed is not the main ingredient. Size can be 275 and up if he has the other ingredients. Need a big, strong guy that you can bring in when you have to go across from the Munchaks and the Munozes."
Defensive tackle/nose tackle: Mazi Smith, Michigan
For a team that's interested in finding a true nose tackle with explosive athleticism and quickness, there's no better option than Smith. He was the No. 1 listed player on the "Freaks List" compiled by the Athletic's Bruce Feldman every year. At 6-foot-3, 323 pounds he has the size to match up with any behemoth offensive lineman and the power to disrupt. He plays low as well -- checking the "leverage" box listed above -- and that sets him apart from some of the other nose-tackle options in this class who can tend to get a little high and make them more easily moved.
Western Kentucky's Brodric Martin (6-foot-5, 330 pounds) -- a teammate of Bailey Zappe's once upon a time -- would be a sensible Day 3 option as a big-bodied player with power and lateral quicks.
Belichick wish list at defensive end
"DEs: All-around player. Big, strong and can run," Jeremiah continued. "These are the hardest guys to find. Would rather have the big strong guy than the faster guy to stop the run first and can substitute in for the pass-rush. 1: You cannot get knocked off the line. 2. Size over speed at defensive end. 3. Pressure up the middle for the QB can cause more problems than guys running around the corner. 4. Frame and growth potential are very important."
Defensive end: Gervon Dexter, Florida
Dexter certainly fits the mold as a "hard-to-find" type. He was a five-star recruit for a reason. He ran a 4.88-second 40-yard dash at 6-foot-6, 310 pounds, which helped him record an elite Relative Athletic Score of 9.52 (out of 10.0). But he's not just a next-level athlete in a big man's body. He's stout against the run, and while with the Gators he flashed the ability to eat double teams without giving up ground.
Part of what makes him the best fit here is the fourth point made by Belichick above. He has all kinds of growth potential. He'll be 21 when he's drafted, and he's considered a player who has yet to come close to his ceiling. He's the kind of traits-based boom-or-bust prospect the Patriots may take a gamble on in the second round.
Belichick wish list at outside linebacker
"OLBs: Big, rangy guy who can run if you can get them," Jeremiah continued. "They're usually the first-round picks. Settle for guys who can stay on the line. Long arms, quick hands. The 6-2 OLBs are hard to like even if they can run upfield. They're small with no range. OLBs need size, speed and athletic ability."
Outside linebacker: Myles Murphy, Clemson
There were some intriguing options here, including Tyree Wilson of Texas Tech, Deion White of Georgia Tech and Lukas Van Ness of Iowa. All are widely considered first-rounders (Wilson and White have accepted their invitations to attend the draft, which typically means the league has intel that suggests they'll go in the first round.) But Murphy seems like the best fit here.
He has almost 34-inch arms that helped him consistently set hard edges for the Tigers on early downs, meaning he'd have no problem "staying on the line" if he had to. But he can do more than that. He has real size (6-foot-5, 268 pounds) and speed to burn. He clocked a blazing (for his size) 4.53-second 40-yard dash at the combine. Big and rangy. First-rounder. That's Murphy.
Belichick wish list at inside linebacker
"Inside LBs: Has to be able to play in close quarters, instinctive, explosive tacklers who can face up and knock guys back," Jeremiah said. "Can play zone defense and not be put in man-to-man situations. Good blitzers. Must be football smart. Don't need great intelligence. Need instincts. Quickness and aggressiveness, leverage and explosive power."
Inside linebacker: Jack Campbell, Iowa
There ain't many linebackers anymore who fit the 1990s mold for Belichick. But Campbell does. At 6-foot-5, 251 pounds he has more than enough size -- and more than enough in the way of an aggressive demeanor -- to be able to "face up and knock guys back." And there's no question he can play in close quarters. His change-of-direction ability (6.74-second three-cone drill, 95th percentile) is elite for anyone at the position, nevermind someone with his frame.
Belichick notes that he doesn't need great intelligence. But it can't hurt, right? Campbell won both the Butkus Award (as the best linebacker in the country) and the Campbell Trophy (also known as the academic Heisman) in his final year with the Hawkeyes.
Belichick wish list at safety
"Safeties: Tacklers. Especially at the safety spot," Jeremiah continued. "Want to be at least 200 pounds. Speed 4.5-4.6 range. Need range at the two deep safeties. Do not need mental giants. Need size/speed guy. Have to be able to cover man-to-man. The 200-pound 4.75 tough guy cannot play for us. Guy has to be able to play the pass. The traditional strong safety guy vs. the run is not what we need. Former corners moved inside to safety might be ideal if they have size. Ball skills and judgment are essential, more so than pure speed and athleticism."
Safety: Jordan Battle, Alabama
This is one of the more clear-cut descriptions offered up by Belichick during this Browns meeting from back in the day. He provides weight and speed parameters that make it a little easier for us to narrow down the options quickly. It's not all that easy -- this year especially since it seems to be a down year at the position -- to find 200-pound players who also have some real juice. But Battle fits the mold.
At 6-foot-1, 209 pounds, he clocked a 4.55-second 40 at the combine, splitting the difference in that "4.5-4.6 range" Belichick coveted. Battle is a tackler, too. He played both in the box and deep, and he was a regular on special teams with almost 800 kicking-game snaps to his name over the course of his career. One of three 'Bama captains for Nick Saban, his ball skills aren't necessarily top-notch -- in 44 career starts he had 16 pass breakups and six picks -- but he has the characteristics that Belichick seemed to prioritize when laying out his preferences at the position.
Belichick wish list at cornerback
"CBs: Tackle and force guys," Jeremiah added. "You need one pure cover corner, 5-10 range and up. Cannot put guys on the field who cannot tackle. Size becomes a factor. Small cover corner guys a liability. Intelligence on defense is not a great factor. DBs have to work well together like an offensive line. Need a sense of teamwork and unselfishness. Five potential problems: 1. Tackling. 2. Selfishness. 3. You need size. Big, physical, strong guys. 4. Need competitiveness. Guys that play hard for 60 minutes. What does a guy do on the PAT? 5. Need symmetry in defense."
Corner: Deonte Banks, Maryland
One of the reasons for digging into these descriptions and pulling out names is to familiarize ourselves with as many Patriots types as possible leading up to the draft. But in this case, we're retracing our steps in a way. When we spoke to Devin McCourty about the traits necessary to play corner for Belichick during a recent episode of The Next Pats Podcast, the name that best fit his description was Deonte Banks.
Wouldn't you know it? Banks is the best fit here, too. Partly because he's a hitter -- or a "tackle and force guy," as Belichick says. And at 6-feet, 203 pounds, he has the size Belichick liked at the position back in the early 1990s.
Then there's the competitiveness portion of the equation. Want a guy who'll play hard for 60 minutes? Not only will Banks use his 4.35-second 40-yard dash speed to track down ball-carriers and run with deep-threat receivers. Banks was also a regular on special teams. How did he handle the PAT? A (typically) no-effort play for the defense that looks and feels like a formality? Banks is the only top-end corner in this draft class with a blocked extra point on his resume, which he tallied last season.
Feels like an ideal fit for what Belichick wanted back in 1991. And he may be exactly what Belichick wants right now, too.