Three years ago, 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.
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.
Stay in the game with the latest updates on your beloved Boston sports teams! Sign up here for our All Access Daily newsletter.
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 in 2020. Both ended up being taken by the Patriots in the third round. In 2021, Mac Jones was clearly the top fit at quarterback. The Patriots also took Chrisitan Barmore that year, who was our best match for Belichick's 3-4 defensive end description. The Nick Caserio-led Texans grabbed our top match at receiver last: John Metchie.
Not a perfect draft-choice predictor. But useful.
Here we'll go position-by-position, use the Jeremiah-provided notes to 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.
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.
New England Patriots
The tackle fit: Darnell Wright, Tennessee
Big, strong and powerful? Check, check and check. Wright checked into the combine at 6-foot-5, 333 pounds and there are plenty of instances on his tape where he's simply throwing people to the ground. "Nasty" is appropriate. So long as the Patriots feel he can "block the right guy" -- "shows confusion against twist," writes NFL.com's Lance Zierlein -- it wouldn't be surprising to see the Patriots take this guy in the first round.
The guard fit: Anthony Bradford, LSU
Another super-sized player (6-foot-4, 335 pounds) with an angry on-field demeanor, Bradford would be the second LSU interior offensive lineman taken by the Patriots in as many years. They snagged Chasen Hines last year, but Bradford looks like the player with more promise. In a gap scheme like the ones the Patriots have favored in recent years, he'd be able to get on the move and flash those physical, "nasty" traits Belichick wants. He went toe-to-toe with Jalen Carter, one of the most powerful players in the class, last season and impressed.
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.
The fit: Dalton Kincaid, Utah
Interesting, isn't it? You'd think Belichick would want the block-first player here given his love of the power running game. But even way back in 1991, he wasn't interested in the burly tight end who provides little in the passing game.
"Take what we can get from him on the blocking..." Really? If that's the case, then Kincaid is the early-90s prototype. He's more than willing to "get in the way and tie up" and even do more of that as a blocker. But at 6-foot-4, 246 pounds, he's probably not going to be moving 260-pound edge defenders on his own. If a good measure of a tight end "is what he does with the ball after the catch," Kincaid is great. He forced 16 missed tackles last year, per Pro Football Focus.
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).
The "big back" fit: Zach Charbonnet, UCLA
A north-south back who breezes through arm tackles, Charbonnet isn't going to be the most creative early-down runner in this class. But that's not what Belichick wanted 30 years ago. Still, Charbonnet "has enough to bounce it outside." He averaged a whopping 7.0 yards per carry last season. Also caught it well (37 receptions, 321 yards) and has the frame to hold up in protection (6-feet, 214 pounds). Get what's blocked. Function in the passing game. That's what Belichick wanted with the Browns. That's Charbonnet, who played for Belichick pal Chip Kelly at UCLA.
The "sub back" fit: Eric Gray, Oklahoma
Almost the exact same dimensions as James White back in 2014 (5-foot-9, 207 pounds), Gray would make all kinds of sense in White's role at the pro level. Smart enough to block the right guy? Though book smarts don't always equal football smarts, Gray has plenty happening between his ears. (He won Oklahoma's Don Key Award, given to players for excellence on and off the field. A math tutor in high school, he majored in Kinesiology at Tennessee before transferring and getting his Multidisciplinary Studies at Oklahoma.)
Plus Gray is a willing protector, which matters. Add to that his 99 career receptions, and you have a passing-downs back that would seem to make Belichick happy no matter the decade.
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.
The fit: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State
Interesting to see that some of the best fits for Belichick at certain positions -- Smith-Njigba, Kincaid, Wright -- could all be in the mix for him at pick No. 14 overall. The reason Smith-Njigba makes so much sense when it comes to this back-in-the-day description from Belichick? Route-running clearly matters to him. Quickness is paramount. Speed... not necessarily a prerequisite. Smith-Njigba might be the best route-runner in the class. He has the quicks to free himself at the line and create separation at will. He ran just a 4.52-second 40, but he could have a Cooper Kuppian impact at the next level.
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.
The fit: Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
Another Vol makes the list here. In a quarterback class with a smorgasbord of traits, Hooker appears to have the steadiest combination of size, poise, accuracy and decision-making that Belichick coveted in the 90s. Though he played in an Air Raid type of offense that doesn't really translate to the pro game, Hooker was an unquestioned leader in Knoxville. He has a clean release and efficient footwork which leads to accurate deliveries. He was considered one of his team's toughest players, and had it not been for a torn ACL late last season he'd likely be in the first-round conversation.
Who knows? Maybe he still ends up going in the top 31 picks to a team that values the things Belichick valued back in 1991.