FOXBOROUGH — It’s the favorite rite of spring for football media and football fans: The mock draft.
Running through the draft board and trying to predict who will be available and whom a team will pick is often an exercise in futility. But it’s always fun.
On Friday, Bill Belichick revealed that his staff conducts mocks as part of the process of developing a strategy for the three-day NFL Draft, which kicks off April 26.
“Sometimes we do that, yeah,’’ the Patriots coach said Friday morning during a predraft press conference. “It’s really more a — I’d say sometimes it just sparks a conversation.
“We might internally say, ‘OK, how about Player A and Player B? Player B and Player C? And if you did a mock draft where kind of each [staffer] has a team and, ‘OK, it’s your turn. You pick this.’
“And now you look at the board, it’s our turn to pick, and ‘Gee, here’s a scenario we hadn’t really thought about. We hadn’t really pictured that this guy would be there.’
“So that can kind of stimulate some [conversation].’’
The Patriots will be major early players in the draft, whether they keep their bounty of picks or trade them for other needs. New England owns a pair of first-round picks, a pair of second-round selections, and a third-rounder. With that much capital, the possibilities are endless, and sometimes decisions aren’t made until the draft actually starts to play out.
“We don’t know what the other teams are going to do and we don’t know what we’re going to do,’’ said Belichick. “Many of them probably don’t know what they’re going to do, either. It would depend on what happens in front of them.’’
Conducting the in-house mocks helps the Patriots compile contingency plans should the unexpected happen during the draft.
“Again, it’s just an exercise to, I’d say, just kind of complete the process of preparation,’’ said Belichick. “That’s the way it is on draft day, too. A lot of times you’re sitting there looking at players that I thought this player would be there and he’s long gone, or I didn’t think this player would be there and he’s still there.’’
Even when a player unexpectedly falls into your lap, it can cause a conundrum.
“If you haven’t done enough work on the player and he’s still there but you really don’t know the player as well as you should because you thought he wouldn’t be there, then that puts you in a little bit of a dilemma,’’ said the coach.
“You’re kind of in the unknown, which is where you don’t want to be. It’s hard enough when you think you know what you’re doing. It’s even harder when you’re kind of guessing because you just didn’t anticipate this.
“I’d say that’s kind of the purpose of the mock draft. We don’t go around and do it all day, but we do it as an exercise just to kind of, as I said, stimulate.’’
The Patriots have a larger pool of players to study up on this year — particularly near the top of the draft — than they’ve had in the last two years when they didn’t have a lot of early picks. They haven’t had a first-round pick since 2016 (because of the Deflategate penalty and the Brandin Cooks trade) and last season didn’t pick until the third round after trading their second choice to Carolina in the Kony Ealy deal.
“Going into those past two drafts, I would say we were able to eliminate a number of players based on where we were selecting,’’ said Belichick, who praised the work of director of player personnel Nick Caserio and director of college scouting Monti Ossenfort and their staffs for their draft preparation.
“This year is a little bit different than that; we really need to know the draft from top to bottom, and potentially – I’d say there’s a handful players that are probably out of reach, but realistically, just about everybody’s in play other than a handful of guys.’’
Belichick declined to get into specifics on which direction the team might be leaning. He was specifically asked if he plans on drafting a potential successor to Tom Brady, who is entering his 19th season.
“We’ll do what’s best for the football team,” said Belichick. “We’ll look at our opportunities and do what’s best.”
When asked a followup about how much longer he thinks Brady will play, the coach stuck to the draft.
“I’m not going to get into everything else here,’’ he said.
Belichick reiterated what he said in Orlando about this being an “exciting time” in the team-building process and that he’s looking forward to the voluntary offseason program, which begins Monday and, according to the coach, will be “heavily attended.’’
“I know there are a couple of players that I’ve talked to that have other commitments, but that’s the way it always is, too,’’ he said. “So, not really anything new there.’’