The Other McCain

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Belichick’s Strange Choice Confounds Critics Who Don’t Understand 4D Chess

Posted on | April 29, 2022 | Comments Off on Belichick’s Strange Choice Confounds Critics Who Don’t Understand 4D Chess

Last night my wife and I had dinner with our 19-year-old daughter and her new boyfriend (he passed muster) at a Mexican restaurant, and there’s nothing like a belly full of Mexican food to put me to sleep, so as soon as we got back to our AirBNB, I crawled into bed and crashed. I’d forgotten that it was NFL Draft night, even though I’ve been following all the pundits’ predictions for weeks. Everybody agreed that the New England Patriots — my team, because Mac Jones, Roll Tide! — should focus on defense, particularly cornerbacks and linebackers, as well as looking for a top wide receiver. So I woke up about 4 a.m. today and checked the headlines and HOLY FREAKING COW!

Belichick did what is called “trading down” in the NFL Draft, exchanging New England’s first-round pick (#21 overall) for the Kansas City Chiefs’ first-round pick (#29 overall), as well as third-round (#94 overall) and fourth-round (#121 overall) picks. The reason the Chiefs were willing to do that is they saw a player they wanted badly (University of Washington cornerback Trend McDuffie) available, while the Patriots — despite their own need at cornerback — apparently weren’t high on McDuffie. So they “traded down” and, in the process, gave themselves 11 picks in the seven-round draft. (The Patriots also have two extra sixth-round picks as a result of previous trades with the Rams and Texans.)

Still, the experts were befuddled by Belichick’s choice of University of Tennessee-Chattanooga offensive guard in the first round, because everybody figured Strange for a second- or even third-round pick. Ah, but they don’t understand four-dimensional chess! The players that Belichick might have picked at #21 (including offensive lineman Zion Johnson of Boston College, Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams and LSU defensive back Derek Stingley Jr.) got taken earlier in the draft and, as I say, they obviously didn’t like McDuffie as much as the Chiefs did. However, there were other cornerbacks still available, including Florida’s Kaiir Elam, who got snapped up by the Buffalo Bills at #23, not to mention Georgia linebacker Quay Walker, who went at #22 to the Packers. But the Patriots definitely needed a real stud on the offensive line, and of the first 20 players picked this year, six of them were offensive lineman. In other words, Belichick could see that there was an unusually high demand for quality linemen in this year’s draft, and if he didn’t get one he liked in the first round, the choices available in the second round (where the Patriots have the #54 overall pick) might not be to his liking. Cole Strange is a genuine beast, 6-foot-5, 307 pounds and incredibly athletic, with the best broad jump performance of any offensive guard at this year’s NFL combine. He’s also smart, with good technique, played in every game for his entire four-year career at UTC, and is exactly the kind of rookie who should be ready to be a starter for the Patriots on Day One in September. Even if nobody else projected him as a first-round pick, think about the psychological factor of Belichick’s choice. It sends a message to Strange: “We believe in you. The team is counting on you. Give us 110%. Don’t let us down.”

Two words: Logan Mankin. A tackle from Fresno State, Mankin wasn’t projected as a first-round pick, but Belichick picked him and switched him to guard, where he became a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, anchoring an offensive line that twice took the Patriots to the Super Bowl. So don’t tell me Belichick can’t pick em.

Something else to think about: Over the past 10 years, no team has gotten higher CAVOE (Career Average Value Over Expectation) from the draft than the Patriots, and Belichick is especially good with late-round picks. Last year, they took running back Rhamondre Stevenson from Oklahoma in the fourth round and, as a rookie, Stevenson was good enough to rival veteran RB Damien Harris (who was himself a third-round choice in 2019). The other starting guard for the Patriots, Mike Onewenu, was a sixth-round pick in 2020, so it’s not as if the extra draft picks that New England got from Kansas City in Thursday’s trade might not produce a starter, or perhaps even a star. You see, back in 2000, Belichick took a player in the sixth round who turned out to be pretty good.

Kid from Michigan. Maybe you’ve heard of him.



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