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Bill Belichick may be the greatest coach in NFL history, but he’s come under fire in recent years for his suspect work as a general manager. In particular, the longtime leader of the New England Patriots has faced well-deserved criticism for swinging and missing far too often in the draft. From burning second-rounders on overvalued defensive backs to spending Day 1 picks on Sony Michel and N’Keal Harry, there’s no doubt Belichick squandered prime opportunities to secure long-term building blocks for his team.

Luckily for the Patriots, though, a troubling trend of draft misfires forced the 69-year-old future Pro Football Hall of Famer to make a selfless decision that’s quickly paid off. And if New England keeps trending in the right direction, the Lombardi Trophy may make its way back to Foxborough in the near future.

New England went from building through the draft to struggling to re-stock the roster with young talent

Bill Belichick found cornerstone players like Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, and Devin McCourty via the draft. And thanks in large part to their homegrown stars, the Patriots achieved unprecedented success during an era designed to promote parity.

However, after consistently hitting on early-round picks for years, Belichick went on a cold streak. He wasted second-round picks in back-to-back drafts on Jordan Richards (2015) and Cyrus Jones (2016), neither of whom developed into useful defensive backs in New England.

In 2018, he passed over Nick Chubb for Sony Michel — a decision that backfired badly. Plus, Belichick traded up in the second round for cornerback Duke Dawson, who appeared in zero games for the Patriots before getting traded to the Denver Broncos.

Of course, the architect of the most successful dynasty of all time exposed himself to further criticism by making N’Keal Harry the final player taken in the first round of the 2019 draft. Belichick curiously ignored his own scouts, bypassing future stars like DK Metcalf A.J. Brown, and Deebo Samuel for a player who simply hasn’t come close to living up to expectations in Foxborough. Plus, he also moved up in the second round to take Joejuan Williams. Considering the 6-foot-3, 212-pound corner only has one start on his NFL resume, Belichick clearly didn’t make the best use of his resources.

Even the 2020 draft featured more questionable moves. The Patriots traded up twice in the third round to take tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. Yet less than a year later, Belichick signed Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry to deals averaging $12.5 million per season.

Bill Belichick’s selfless decision has quickly changed the outlook of what lies ahead for the Patriots

Having self-awareness makes a world of difference in the world of pro football. And in Belichick’s case, he clearly realized his way of handling the draft had left the Patriots in a vulnerable position. Coming off a 7-9 campaign that included plenty of frustrating moments, he made the selfless decision to surrender some semblance of personnel power to a loyal employee: Dave Ziegler.

A well-respected member of the front office with an extensive scouting background, Ziegler received a life-changing promotion this offseason. Belichick named him as director of player personnel, which paved the way for the Patriots to shake up their draft process.

According to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, Ziegler, scouting executive Eliot Wolf and national scout Matt Groh moved into more prominent roles once Nick Caserio, Belichick’s longtime right-hand man, departed for the Houston Texans. And it’s clear Belichick is already benefitting from letting more people get involved with scouting and selecting players.

With Ziegler essentially in the GM role, the Patriots finally ended their trend of swinging and missing early in the draft. Instead, they landed a franchise quarterback with the 15th overall pick (Mac Jones) and an uber-talented defensive tackle in the second round (Christian Barmore). Both former Alabama stars have fit in seamlessly and look capable of becoming bonafide stars at their respective positions.

Moreover, Ziegler and the scouting department deserve praise for scooping up Rhamondre Stevenson in the fourth round. Although he only ran for 1,180 yards and 13 touchdowns in 19 collegiate games, the powerful, quick-footed running back has quickly become a key weapon in Josh McDaniels’ offense.

Belichick may still hold final say in New England, but allowing Ziegler and other smart, experienced football minds to have a larger influence on the construction of the roster certainly seems like a sound strategy. After all, the Patriots have turned their season around thanks in large part to Jones’ poise and accuracy, Barmore’s continued growth, and Stevenson’s playmaking ability.

What else does the front office need to do to set Mac Jones and Co. up for success?

The future looks incredibly bright for Belichick’s squad. With the defense rounding into form and the offense showing tangible improvement on a weekly basis, the Patriots look poised to make a legitimate run at the Lombardi Trophy. While it helps to play in a wide-open conference, it also helps to have talented youngsters like Jones, Barmore, Stevenson, Damien Harris, and Kyle Dugger filling key roles.

Will New England represent the AFC in Super Bowl 56?

A few weeks ago, that seemed like a pipedream. Now, though, the idea of Belichick competing for a championship doesn’t sound so unlikely.

Looking ahead, the Patriots still have work to do to fortify their roster. After all, even though Jones and Co. have made significant strides, several positions need reinforcements.

At wide receiver, Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers represent two sold building blocks. Nelson Agholor, on the other hand, doesn’t look like a great long-term fit. Perhaps Ziegler can help Belichick finally overcome his wideout woes in the draft. Giving Jones a true No. 1 option would make the offense even more lethal moving forward.

As for other potential areas of need?

The Patriots may need to re-stock the tackle position, too. Veteran Trent Brown will become a free agent after the season, and 2018 first-round pick Isaiah Wynn only has one year left on his rookie deal. It might be time to spend a premium pick on an athletic, high-upside offensive lineman, especially with a classic pocket passer like Jones under center.

Ultimately, though, there’s no doubt New England has a significantly better roster than a year ago. And if Bill Belichick continues to trust those around him to help make personnel decisions, he could add another Super Bowl ring to his collection sooner than later.

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