The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are, once again, trying to build their team through the draft. After general manager Jason Licht was hired last year, the Bucs overhauled their scouting process and much of their scouting department, getting rid of many of Mark Dominik's people to bring in Licht's disciples. And with a personnel overhaul came a system overhaul as well, one which Pewter Report documents in Scott Reynold's latest SR's Fab 5 column.
Most notably, the Bucs basically copied the New England Patriots' approach to drafting. That's no surprise: Jason licht worked under Belichick for eight years, while director of player personnel Jon Robinson was a member of the New England staff for 12 seasons. Obviously they're going to copy the methods they learned with the Patriots -- starting with their grading scale.
"We don't even talk about rounds in our scouting system," Robinson said. "It's about how he fits into our football team. Is he a starting-caliber player? Is he a role player? Is he a backup player? At some point the rounds come into play, but to ask an area scout to go to a school and say they would take a guy in a third round - that tells me nothing.
We shouldn't overvalue these differences, though. Whether you rank players by draft round or by a numerical grading system, you're still ranking and grading them. It's not a fundamentally different approach to scouting. What does matter is the basis on which the Bucs now draft players: by comparing them to players already on the roster.
"What is he good at? Who is better than on our team? Who is he like that you've scouted in the past two or three years? That paints a picture in my head. At the very end we assign a round, but we don't put that on our area scouts. Just tell us what the player can do and how they can help our football team."
That's an approach Jason Licht and Jon Robinson learned from their time under Bill Belichick as well. Compare to this paragraph in Michael Holley's War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team on the way the Patriots scouted players.
Their system was based on comparatives, Our Guys vs. the Guys in the Draft, so there were quizzical looks for any scout who described a player as a "first-round pick" or "backup safety." There was a numerical system in place, with alerts built into it so an evaluator could quickly see if a player was height deficient, went to a small school, had an injury history, was a character concern, or had problems picking up schemes. The idea was to find players in the country who had a realistic shot of being better than one of the fiftythree players on the Patriots' roster.
The power of this method shouldn't be overestimated. For one thing, it means you're likely to sacrifice long-term quality for short-term gains: passing on a very good player because he wouldn't immediately improve the roster as much as someone slightly worse at a different position isn't necessarily the best thing to do. And it's not like Bill Belichick has found the magical fountain of draft quality: like every other team in the NFL, he has plenty of misses. In fact, there's a decent amount of evidence that no team is better at picking players than any other team.
And we have plenty of evidence for the fact that this system is no panacea: none of Belichick's disciples have really succeeded anywhere, even with this system. When Josh McDaniels brought it to the Denver Broncos, his drafts were terrible. When Scott Pioli brought it to the Kansas City Chiefs, he was fired in just a few years. Thomas Dimitroff did reasonably well over six years, but was effectively demoted this year after two disastrous seasons.
There is one thing the Patriots are very, very good at doing, though: picking up extra draft picks by making lopsided trades -- trading down or trading for future picks. And yet that strategy, which has been consistently successful, is the one strategy the Bucs did not copy from New England. Instead, as under Mark Dominik, the Bucs have gone back to making minor trades up for players they really like -- essentially the opposite of what Belichick usually does.