New England Patriots

This report about Patriots' player evaluation process is troubling

Are Bill Belichick and the Patriots in danger of being left behind?

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Bill Belichick oversaw arguably the greatest dynasty in professional sports from 2001 to 2019. But times have changed since the early 2000s, and it sounds like the New England Patriots head coach and his staff are struggling to keep up.

The Boston Herald's Andrew Callahan and Doug Kyed published an in-depth article Thursday highlighting Mac Jones' stunning decline from Rookie of the Year runner-up to one of the NFL's most ineffective quarterbacks. Included in that article is a nugget about how New England assesses talent -- and it should make Patriots fans a bit uneasy.

"According to a league source, part of (the Patriots') business includes a front office that evaluates players almost entirely without the assistance of analytics," Callahan and Kyed wrote.

Callahan and Kyed used the team's wide receivers as an example: Entering last Sunday's loss to the New Orleans Saints, Patriots wideouts ranked last in the NFL in average separation from their defenders. That played a hand in New England also ranking last in EPA (expected points added) and passer rating against man-to-man coverage, since their top pass-catchers -- most notably DeVante Parker and JuJu Smith-Schuster -- struggle to beat defenders 1-on-1.

"Nobody can get open, so everything has to be schemed," a team source told Callahan and Kyed. "That's a hard way to live."

Both Parker and Smith-Schuster were recent free-agent signings, and a look at GPS tracking data (some of which is publicly available via Next Gen Stats) would have told Belichick and Co. that Parker in particular is among the NFL's worst at creating separating. According to Callahan and Kyed, however, it appears modern-day analytics don't factor much into the Patriots' decision-making.

That's not totally surprising: Belichick won three Super Bowls in the early 2000s when many of the current NFL analytics didn't exist, and he continued to find success through the late 2010s. So, maybe he and his staff felt no need to change a player evaluation model that had worked for two decades.

It might be time to upgrade that model, however. The most successful offenses in today's NFL rely on speed and athleticism (see Tyreek Hill in Miami or Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel in San Francisco) and are mostly led by young head coaches who lean heavily into analytics (see the Dolphins' Mike McDaniel and the 49ers' Kyle Shanahan). The Patriots lack that game-changing dimension on offense, and it's showing: They rank dead last in points per game (11.0) through five weeks.

Belichick and the 1-4 Patriots are in danger of getting left behind if they don't adapt to the modern NFL. And if their internal process doesn't change and the losses keep piling up, perhaps you'll see a new head coach calling the shots next season.

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