Why Are the Patriots So Good?
Cover Image: Bob Leverone/AP
For nearly two decades the Patriots have dominated the NFL. They’ve won 8 conference titles, 15 division crowns, had an undefeated regular season, and (most importantly) they’ve grabbed 5 Super Bowl rings. As the Patriots prepare for another Super Bowl, we have to question, “Why are the Patriots so good?”
The answer might be a bit more scientific than you'd think. The Patriots run their team as a business and every Startup, Fortune 500, and NFL team should be taking a page out of the Patriot’s playbook.
The Scientific Method for the Patriots is simple:
- Find the players with the right skill sets
- Make sure these players fit the Patriot system (and budget)
- Evaluate individual's strengths in order to build better teams
Find ways to bend the rules(hmm... maybe we won't get into this one)
Drafting The Right Players
The first step in the method is the Patriot’s process for drafting players. The Patriots have mastered the NFL Draft and it’s fun to represent two decades of success with this single picture.
Brady pictured at the 2000 NFL Draft - NFL Network
Tom Brady hardly looks like the profile of a gridiron superstar. However, by drafting him the Patriots were able to find arguably the greatest QB to ever play the game in the 6th round of the NFL draft. No, they didn't have a magic 8-ball, but they used a system that has helped them draft some of the top players in the league at very reasonable margins. In a 2014 interview, former Patriots scout said the following about Brady,
The Patriots developed a system that they trust and were even willing to use a draft pick on Brady at a time when they didn't really need a quarterback. They already had a 28-year-old Drew Bledsoe who had been very successful. However, the Patriots stuck to their system and drafted him anyways because he was the profile of a player they wanted at quarterback. But this system isn't just for drafting the right players, they also have a process for finding talented veterans. For example, one of the strategies the Patriots like to use is trading away a 4th, 5th or even a 6th round pick for a proven veteran.
Four's A Crowd
Why do the Patriots like to trade away their mid to late round picks? Well, the stats don’t lie, data shows that the success rate of a 5th round pick is negligibly different from the success rate of 6th and 7th rounders. Even if you look at the data, a 4th round pick is only marginally better than a 5th rounder. However, as you might guess, there is a lot more upfront money going to players in the earlier rounds. All-in-all, picking a player in the NFL is always a gamble and that's why teams strive to make every player on their roster count. The Patriots follow this rule pretty well. Yet, some teams are still willing to give up valuable players for a mid to late round pick, which the Pats capitalize on. Instead of drafting a 4th, 5th or 6th rounder, the Patriots often trade these picks for proven NFL veterans. Some of the players that have come from these trades include: Chad Johnson, Albert Haynesworth, Keshawn Martin, Randy Moss, Aqib Talib, and Martellus Bennett.
Martellus Bennett - SI.com
For example, in the 2016-2017 season, the Patriots traded a 4th round pick to the Bears for Tight End, Marcellus Bennett. He was in his 9th season and struggled a bit the season before. Some might have questioned if he was trending downward, but with the Patriots in 2016 he defied the odds. He led the Patriots in receiving Touchdowns with 7, his highest ever in a season, he had his highest Yards After Catch average ever and he helped the Patriots win the Super Bowl. The Patriots didn’t just get lucky, they analyzed his stats, mental state and skills believing that—put in the right system—he would over perform. He did just that.
Having the Right Coach
The Patriots' system clearly works and much of their success is due to having the right coach. Bill Belichick’s leadership has been the keystone of the Patriots' 18-year dominance. Without the right coach, it's hard to implement a system.
He’s been a mastermind recruiter and he is also a genius at utilizing his own players' strengths while minimizing their weaknesses. Hall of fame coach Tony Dungy once said this about Belichick:
Not only does Belichick recognize his players’ strengths. He helps them train in a way so that the players recognize and maximize these strengths as well.
It's not just about finding skilled players. The Patriot's realize that finding players who fit their system is equally, if not more, important than finding talented players. Like hiring for a company, you can’t just look for the smartest person in the room for every position and expect the company to be successful. You need all the right skill sets and people who fit into the culture. Bill believes strongly in finding players who fit his system rather than finding "brand name" players. For example, look at the Patriots top wide receiver corps from 2016. Looking at the picture below, you might think that they don’t look like NFL receivers. Brady looks like he's high-fiving a few eager young fans as he towers over Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, and Julian Edelman.
Brady and Wide Receivers (2016) - CBS Boston
All three of these receivers are below average in NFL height, but, regardless of their heights, Bill picked these players and utilized their strengths based on data. In 2016 they each led or were near the top of the NFL in specific packages and routes. Belichick knows how to maximize his players' output by identifying their strengths, helping them train to recognize their strengths, and then placing them in strategic packages to maximize the total output of the team. With Bill's help, these guys have been turned into top players.
Unsurprisingly, Belichick says the following about his players,
Building the Right System & Sticking To It
Bill measures his players' strengths and weaknesses to help the team succeed. He knows what players need to be on the field together and when.
The Patriot’s system is a key to their success. They believe in it, they follow it and this system builds teams that win championships. Sometimes it requires tough decisions. For example, the Patriot’s system requires Bill to let go of veterans who might have nostalgia but take up too much of the salary cap. He also drafts low when possible to minimize costs and finds team players.
Drafting Lower Means Less Guaranteed Costs and Signing Bonus (Business Insider)
You can see from the data that by drafting lower he cuts down costs by huge margins. Bill realizes that you don't just win games on the field, you also win them in the back office. The Patriots look for players in lower rounds that fit their system. This results in players that are a better fit for their team and cost the Patriots less money to draft. Furthermore, the Patriots find players that also believe in their system. Tom Brady, who could easily command the highest salary in the league on another team, is currently the 18th highest paid QB (as of 2017). It has even been suggested that he is getting paid $10 million below his market value to keep the Patriots competitive. Tom Brady must believe in the system... why else would he give up $10 million dollars?
We saw another fine example of the Patriots system back in 2016 when Brady got suspended for the "Deflategate" scandal. Jimmy Garapollo played 2 games at QB before he got hurt and then Jacoby Brissett played a game and he got hurt. How confident was Bill Belichick in his own system? After Brissett got hurt, Bill refused to go out and sign another QB. Instead, he was prepared to play wide receiver Julian Edelman at QB, because he believed that his system brought in the right players for his team and that based on whatever this system told him, Edelman was a better fit than picking up some quarterback who didn’t fit the system. Bill was not willing to adjust his gameplan or cut one of his other players to sign a QB.
It’s worth noting that the Patriots won 3 out of 4 of those games that Brady missed (and no, Edelman didn't get to start any games at QB).
How Can Companies Emulate the Patriot's Success
At the end of the day, the Patriots are a business. Other businesses should look at the Patriot’s model and try to emulate it. If companies can successfully complete the steps below by building a successful system, then they will rise above their competition.
- Find people with the right skill sets
- Make sure these people fit the company culture
- Evaluate individuals’ strengths in order to build better teams
Companies who don’t follow this process and continue to hire people based on gut feeling or some other method will continue to struggle. They will see higher turnover rates and more bad hires than other companies (trust us we know, we've tested it across 3 continents). Our NFL comparison is the Cleveland Browns. They will be drafting Quarterbacks in the early rounds for all of eternity...sorry, Browns. They’ve had 25 different quarterbacks during the Patriots dominant run… and guess what? They drafted most of them within the first three rounds. It's apparent their system isn't working.
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