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Tier Trading Explains New England's Draft Strategy

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Deone Bucannon (20) could be the Patriots first selection but they wouldn't have to pick him until day two. A trade may be in the winds. Photo By Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images.
Deone Bucannon (20) could be the Patriots first selection but they wouldn't have to pick him until day two. A trade may be in the winds. Photo By Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images.

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick probably scoffs at the idea that the Patriots are picking at 29 in the 2014 NFL Draft. To him, that number means nothing. It may be the most convenient selection, but ialways the most advantageous one. He will likely trade again, as he has done in the past so many times. Belichick has traded up in the draft 17 times and down 32 times.

The way the Patriots set up their draft board allows them to move freely throughout the three days.

While the Patriots rank their prospects from top to bottom, they seem to talk about prospects in tiers, something Todd McShay demonstrated nicely (Insider content). This year, McShay put four players in Tier One (defensive end Jadaveon Clowney, offensive tackle Greg Robinson, wide receiver Sammy Watkins and linebacker Khalil Mack). All of the prospects in Tier One have the same value and are projected to have the same impact on whichever team they play for. Other tiers are more inclusive than Tier One. Tier Five, for example, has 21 players and the Pats’ selection is near the top of this deep group of players. Some of those players include quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, defensive linemen Ra’Shede Hageman, Dee Ford, and Louis Nix III, wide receiver Cody Latimer, running back Carlos Hyde and safety Deone Bucannon.

The beauty of sitting atop a deep tier is that the Patriots could trade back into the tier and grab a talent like Bucannon, who fits a need at safety and has the same prospect grade as Hageman (For sake of argument, we will assume that Belichick’s draft board is similar to McShay’s, though that may not be the case). The Patriots could trade down the NFL’s physical draft board, but they would not lose ground within their rankings. Even though the Patriots could took Bucannon 10 picks after Hageman, the two prospects had the same pre-draft grade, and the Pats probably picked up two additional picks in the process.

Their spot is also ripe for picking players in tier four that might slide due to a late first-round run on QBs. Tier Four has the 16th through 23rd ranked prospects. Some of those players include linebacker Ryan Shazier, safety Calvin Pryor and defensive end Stephon Tuitt. If these players were to fall, this might be the situation that allows New England to actually draft at 29. 

This theory does not apply only to the first round. Belichick has been known to move in every round of the draft, particularly if he is chasing a particular prospect. No player is out of Belichick’s reach. The Patriots sit in a place that allows them to wait to make their first pick until May 9, the second day of the draft.