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Sunday Football Notes

Patriots’ draft strategy backed by the numbers

Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s penchant in recent years for moving around in the first round has led to the acquisition of numerous second- and third-round picks.

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s penchant in recent years for moving around in the first round has led to the acquisition of numerous second- and third-round picks.

To many Patriots fans, it is the most overused word in the Bill Belichick Draft Time Dictionary: value.

At the close of the second day of this year’s draft, when New England chose four players thanks to its trade with the Vikings a night earlier, Belichick used “value” four sentences into his opening statement, and then again before he’d finished it, and eight more times before he walked away from the podium.

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And truth be told, to some of the team’s followers, value may as well be a four-letter word.

They see the Patriots trade down most years, either moving closer to the end of the first round (2010), trading away a second first-round pick (2011), or trading out of the first round entirely (2009, 2013), and it is frustrating to see them pass on potential playmakers.

But Craig Wills, the head of the department of computer science at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and four students — Casey Barney, Anthony Caravella, Michael Cullen, and GaryJackson — recently completed a research project that backs up Belichick.

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“Let me be clear: I am a big Pats fan, but we did not start out to uphold ‘We believe in Bill,’ ” Wills said with a chuckle.

The impetus for the study came when Wills heard draft evaluators assigning grades to each team’s class within hours of the end of the draft, which he thought was crazy (we tend to agree).

So, he and his students came up with a more systematic approach to grading teams’ ability to draft well, going back to 2000 through 2012. Their work not only allowed them to conclude which teams were best in that time, but also which positions gave teams the most value, and which rounds ended up providing more bang for the buck.

“We really started out trying to evaluate how well certain teams did over that time. How well have they done, as Bill Parcells said, at ‘picking the groceries,’ ” Wills said.

Using two metrics — Approximate Value scores created by ProFootballReference.com founder and mathematician Doug Drinen to give a single numerical value to any player at any position for every season dating to 1950, and also their own, called the Appearance Score, which figures a player’s success based on a weighted system of games played, games started, Pro Bowl nods, and All-Pro honors — the group came up with a number of conclusions.

Ignoring cost, Wills and the students determined that the Packers have drafted the best since 2000, with New England and San Francisco coming in just behind. Washington has gotten the least amount of talent in that time.

When the cost to acquire players is factored in, Pittsburgh comes out on top, with Indianapolis and Green Bay second and third. St. Louis is last in this evaluation.

For its research, the group calculated cost using a round points metric, with seven points for first-round players down to one point for seventh-rounders and no points for an undrafted rookie signed by a team.

But here’s where the WPI research really backs Belichick’s approach to drafting.

“The primary result is that the draft pick chart [which assigns points to every slot; teams try to exchange picks worth an equal number of picks] is just wrong,” Wills said. “It overvalues first-round picks relative to second- and third-rounders.”

It was on cue for the group that Belichick traded out of the first round last month, sending the 29th overall pick to Minnesota in exchange for the Vikings’ second- (52d overall), third- (83d), fourth- (102d) and seventh-round (229th) picks, which they used to select defensive lineman Jamie Collins, cornerback Logan Ryan, and wide receiver Josh Boyce, and sent the 229th pick to Tampa Bay in the Jeff Demps trade.

The Vikings chose receiver Cordarrelle Patterson at 29.

“If you add up what the Patriots gave away vs. what they got, they’re expected to get 75 to 80 percent more production from the four choices they received than the one they gave away,” Wills said. “That doesn’t mean they’ll do that. If New England drafted poorly or if the guy they gave away becomes an All-Pro receiver” it would slant the trade toward the Vikings.

Belichick’s penchant in recent years for moving around in the first round has led to the acquisition of numerous second- and third-round picks. Since 2000, his first year in New England and coincidentally the first year the group went back to in its study, the Patriots have drafted 20 players in the second round and 16 in the third, but 20 of those 36 picks have come since 2009.

Those moves are again validated by the results of Wills’s group project. They found that a player taken in the second round, on average, would provide 70 percent of the production of a first-round pick, but at 40-45 percent of the cost.

“If you turn it around, as a second-round pick, you’re underpaid,” Wills said.

In the Patriots-Vikings case, there’s a chance to make a direct comparison: Under the rookie wage scale in the collective bargaining agreement, Minnesota will pay Patterson a four-year contract worth about $7.221 million. AaronDobson, the receiver the Patriots drafted in the second round at No. 59, will get four years, $3.428 million.

Dobson’s salary is 47 percent of what Patterson will make. There is, of course, no way to forecast how things will unfold over the next four years, but if Patterson and Dobson have similar production in that time, which team got the better deal?

Other findings from the WPI research:

 The most costly positions — positions teams use the highest draft picks on — are quarterback, defensive end, and offensive tackle. The position with the most overall success is safety, since when using both the Appearance Score metric and the Approximate Value scores, safety comes out in the top three. Using solely Approximate Value, kickers, quarterbacks, and safeties are the most successful, and using only Appearance Score, centers, safeties, and guards are the top three.

 In terms of cost effectiveness, centers, guards, and kickers are undervalued, while cornerbacks are overvalued.

 Relative to their overall production/success, second- and third-round players are underpaid compared with players drafted in the fourth through seventh rounds.

PATIENT APPROACH

Giants remain in Cruz control

Giants co-owner John Mara has expressed confidence twice in recent weeks that a deal will be struck between the team and restricted free agent receiver Victor Cruz, and that patience is needed while things get worked out.

Undrafted in 2010 after playing at UMass, Cruz became an overnight star in 2011, when he had a franchise-record 1,536 receiving yards on 82 catches and danced the salsa after each of his nine touchdowns.

He followed that up with 86 receptions for 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.

The Giants gave Cruz a first-round RFA tender, which would pay him $2.879 million for 2013, but he has yet to sign the tender and has not been taking part in the team’s offseason workout program, which is voluntary.

Mara said last week that there has been “slow and steady” communication between the Giants and Tom Condon, Cruz’s agent, reiterating that something will get done, and that the situation is not atypical when dealing with a contract for a standout player.

While Mara has answered a couple of questions about negotiations, Cruz has not spoken to the media about his contract situation in weeks.

Though a contract isn’t finalized yet, there isn’t a deadline to get one done. Cruz could opt to skip minicamp June 11-13, but it would be more of a statement than an act of defiance; since he is not under contract, he is not obligated to take part in the mandatory camp.

The Giants have the option in mid-June to cut the amount of Cruz’s tender to 110 percent of his 2012 salary, which would amount to $594,000 — a far cry from the nearly $3 million he now has on the table for this season.

The Patriots took that tack with Logan Mankins in 2010, when he fell victim to the rules of the uncapped season and was a restricted free agent in his sixth season instead of being able to hit the open market.

Mankins balked, things got a bit unsavory between the sides, and the All-Pro guard did not report to the team until November.

Though he was franchised in 2011 — an option the Giants would also have available for ’14 if Cruz plays this season on his RFA tender — Mankins and the Patriots were able to work out a long-term deal during training camp.

It is not expected that there will be any messiness between Cruz and the Giants. Condon has a good relationship with the organization, as he also represents Eli Manning, Mathias Kiwanuka, and Mark Herzlich.

Part of the problem is that while Cruz may be looking to get close to $10 million a year, the Giants also need money to extend Hakeem Nicks, whom they believe is a No. 1 receiver.

Although the team holds the leverage in this situation — no teams presented an offer sheet to Cruz before last month’s deadline, meaning his only option is to sign the tender now, come to a long-term agreement, or sign the tender in Week 10 so he can get the necessary games to accrue another season of service — the Giants need the receiver almost as much as he needs them.

ETC.

Tebow time running out

You have to feel for Tim Tebow, at least a little bit.

Since Tebow was released by the Jets on April 29, the Jacksonville Jaguars have said twice, in no uncertain terms, that they have no intention of signing the former University of Florida star and making it possible for him to play in the city where he was raised. Several other NFL clubs have stated that they won’t be bringing Tebow aboard, either.

On Thursday, a Yahoo! Sports story quoted a team source as saying Bill Belichick “hates” Tebow as a player, which if true is counter to things Belichick has said publicly about Tebow in the past.

A personal injury attorney in Florida has paid for a commercial extolling Tebow’s virtues, and is basically blackmailing the Jaguars, saying he’ll buy a luxury box if they sign him.

Tebow has tremendous heart, is a great leader, and is called a “winner” — that intangible that’s not so easy to find. Reporters who have covered Tebow in Denver and with the Jets say he is unfailingly polite, and there are numerous examples of his charitable works.

But none of those things makes Tebow a viable NFL quarterback, and Tebow has said he is unwilling to try a different position. Plus, not only will a team that signs him get a mediocre player at the position, it will also get the cult-like following (led by ESPN’s Skip Bayless) and accompanying media circus that comes with having him on the roster.

The Yahoo! story also broached the idea that Tebow is being blackballed in large part because of the frenzy that would inevitably follow him.

It’s a bit sad, really. While Tebow hasn’t exactly shied away from the spotlight, he hasn’t solicited the type of over-the-top attention he now receives, yet that may be the reason he doesn’t get a fair shot at a second chance in the NFL.

Extra points

Here’s hoping former second-round pick Titus Young has someone who can get through to him — not to get him back into the NFL, but to stop him from self-destructing. Young was arrested twice in 15 hours last week: once for DUI and again when he was caught breaking into the impound lot to get his car back. Young has long had on- and off-field issues, including several incidents of hitting teammates and getting into shouting matches with coaches. When the Lions got fed up enough to release him earlier this year, the Rams put in a waiver claim on Young, only to release him 10 days later . . . Former Patriot and current free agent Richard Seymour has said he “definitely” wants to play in 2013, but so far there have been no takers for the 33-year-old. Seymour missed eight games last year because of hamstring issues, but is still held in high regard as a difference-maker when healthy. He could end up with a team by training camp, but it’s unlikely to be in New England. Things did not end well in Seymour’s time here, with the relationship between the player and Belichick having soured long before he was traded to Oakland . . . It was announced last week that Levi’s, the iconic denim brand, was awarded the naming rights to the 49ers’ new stadium, which will open in 2014; the company will shell out $220 million over 20 years to have the billion-dollar facility called Levi’s Stadium. But the best part of the news was the puns that popped up on Twitter: “Levi’s has deep pockets,” the “Field of Jeans,” “Win one for the zipper.” . . . Speaking of Levi’s Stadium, it now looks like it will host Super Bowl L in 2016. San Francisco and South Florida were named finalists for the game last October, but when Florida lawmakers could not work out a deal to provide $350 million in taxpayer money to finance much-needed renovations to Sun Life Stadium, their bid took a major hit. The host of Super Bowl L will be named on May 22, at the close of the NFL meetings in Boston. The losing city will then oppose Houston for the right to host Super Bowl LI . . . As soon as I got the roster for Patriots rookie minicamp a week ago and saw that Aaron Dobson would be wearing No. 17, my immediate thought was “don’t do it to the kid!” Colleague Christopher L. Gasper mentioned this in a column a couple of days back, but that number does not have a good history with the Patriots. It is the same number worn by Chad Jackson and Taylor Price, both abject failures as receivers with New England (and everywhere else). Maybe it’s Dobson’s favorite number, maybe he prefers 87 but can’t get it from Rob Gronkowski; regardless, while we wouldn’t call it a curse to wear No. 17, it hasn’t been a blessing either . . . Congratulations to Patriots quarterback Ryan Mallett, who graduated from Arkansas Saturday with a degree in sociology. He finished up the final two classes he needed by traveling between Boston and Fayetteville in recent weeks. For a player who entered the NFL with a big arm but a lot of questions about his character and off-field activities, Mallett has been a model citizen since being drafted.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

Correction: Due to a reporting error, WPI professor Craig Wills was mistakenly referred to as Craig Willis in an earlier version.

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