What does it take to succeed as a wide receiver under Bill Belichick? I’ll admit it—I don’t know. Problem is: I don’t think Bill knows either.
Those are pretty strong words when you consider that we are talking about one of the greatest NFL coaches ever—a football mastermind who just happens to own three Super Bowl rings as a head coach.
So what does it take to be a successful NFL receiver? Like all of us, Bill knows that the first quality is a no-brainer. It all starts with talent and athleticism, with a bit of toughness thrown in. Still, even with speed, quickness and strength, most star receivers in college get eaten alive by the DBs when they get to the pros.
What else do you need? To be a successful wideout for Bill and Tom Brady, you also have to be an exquisitely good route runner. Brady knows just where you’re supposed to be and when, and if you’re not there he’ll simply look elsewhere.
One of the Internet draft gurus I read suggested that the Pats draft Cordarrelle Patterson from Tennessee, the owner of a 4.33 40-yard dash time who is dynamic with the ball in his hands.
His apparent weakness, route running, didn’t worry our supposed expert. But with the Pats, the only place he would have been dashing is toward the waiver wire.
So what else? For the Pats, number three—and it’s the hardest to measure, hardest to determine even with the help of film and personal interviews—is football smarts.
Football smarts is something very different from Wonderlic smarts. To know how to read a defense, to break off a pattern, to adjust your route—to see the defense just the way Brady does—is a mystical quality. It’s the elusive attribute that makes or breaks a receiver for the Pats, and few have it.
Forget about all those draft failures who might not have been fast enough or tough enough or good enough route runners. What’s pretty amazing is that Joey Galloway, with 14 seasons under his belt, six of them for more than 1,000 yards, was never able to get on the same page with Tom Brady.
Ditto for Chad Ochocinco.
And even though he had already been successful in a Josh McDaniels offense, Brandon Lloyd never quite figured it out either.
Which receivers in recent Pats history have had the smarts?
Randy Moss, even if some people said he was nothing more than a speed burner.
Deion Branch, who was never accused of being a speed burner but who seemed to know just where to be downfield.
Most amazingly, Julian Edelman. It’s absolutely flabbergasting that someone who never played a down at wide receiver in a four-year college career could grasp the intricacies and the adjustments needed of a Patriots wideout so well in his rookie season when they needed him to step in.
And last, who did Edelman step in for but a tough, slow Texan—gulp, I still mourn his sad departure—a guy with the initials WW, who always—always—was there when Tom needed him to be.
Welcome to Foxborough, Aaron Dobson and and Josh Boyce, plucked in the second and fourth rounds by the Patriots’ brain trust in the 2013 draft.
Maybe Bill’s instincts this year will produce the same magic as in 2010 when he opted for two pretty decent tight ends in, you guessed it, Rounds 2 and 4.
If these guys turn out to be anywhere as good as Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, we see visions of Super Bowls in the crystal ball, and Bill, we will all worship at your altar.
But if these guys flame out, as so many of their predecessors, it will show just what an imprecise science the draft is. And Bill, you will go down in history as the guy who could do everything—everything—in football but pick wide receivers in the draft.