2021 Defensive draft picks who fit Bill Belichick's 1990s scouting wish list

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Phil Perry
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Perry: Defensive draft picks who fit Belichick's 1990s scouting wish list originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Daniel Jeremiah stumbled upon a gem last year. In the middle of some spring cleaning, he found a set of notes he was given during a "scout school" session during his time with the Baltimore Ravens. Now the lead draft analyst for NFL Network, they were notes Jeremiah was happy to rediscover.

Compiled by scout Dom Anile, who'd previously worked for the Browns under head coach Bill Belichick, the notes were dated Feb. 13, 1991. In those sentences and paragraphs chock full of scout speak were position-by-position traits of what Belichick wanted his staff to be looking for as their roster was built.

Next Pats Podcast: Daniel Jeremiah says ‘heck yes’ Trey Lance is a fit for the Patriots | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Jeremiah tweeted out the offensive notes and shared the defensive ones on his "Move the Sticks" podcast. We'll lay out the podcast transcription at each defensive position for you here, then provide a player who fits the description. (You can find our offensive fits here.)

One historical note before we dive in.

The 1991 offseason was Belichick's first with the Browns after finishing the 1990 season as defensive coordinator with the Giants. Belichick used a 3-4 style defense as a coordinator. In Cleveland, he hired Nick Saban, who preferred a 4-3 style scheme, to be his defensive coordinator. That '91 team ended up using a 4-3 defense.

But in February of that year -- when these notes were compiled by Anile -- it looks like that front-seven decision hadn't yet been made. In fact, the very day these notes were taken (Feb. 13) was the same day Saban announced he was leaving his post as Toledo head coach to join the Browns. Saban might not have been given the keys to the Cleveland defense just yet.

All that is to say that it seems as though Belichick had a 3-4 defense in mind when he held this meeting, detailed by Anile, with his scouts. 

The giveaway? Belichick purportedly refers to good outside linebackers as guys who can "stay on the line."  Those are the edge defenders in a 3-4. (In a 4-3, "Sam" and "Will" outside linebackers play off the line.)

Also, in a 3-4, a defensive end is someone who generally plays over an offensive tackle and is built like Ty Warren or Richard Seymour -- around 300 pounds with good length. Keep that in mind when we hit the "outside linebacker" and "defensive end" position groups below.

In the podcast, Jeremiah first read off some general defensive thoughts from the notes.

"Defense: Defend the middle of the field first. Do not allow offense to run or pass inside. Pressure on the QB up the middle. Force them to go outside. Make sure you have a third-down cover LB or sixth DB to match up on the Metcalfs of the world, etc."

Then the meeting shifted to desired positional traits.

Belichick wish list at defensive tackle/nose tackle

"DT/NT: Inside guys need explosive quickness and can play well in a fairly confined space," Jeremiah said, reading from his notes. "Explode, power, quickness, leverage. If he's big and has explosive quickness, it's what you want. 4.8 speed is not the main ingredient. Size can be 275 and up if he has the other ingredients. Need a big, strong guy that you can bring in when you have to go across from the Munchaks and the Munozes."

Defensive tackle: Alim McNeill, NC State

Explosive quickness? How does a 4.94 40-yard dash for a 317-pounder sound? At 6-foot-1, McNeill also benefits from having natural leverage. But his ability to get out of his stance quickly is easily discernible when you watch him play, and scouts got confirmation on that explosiveness with his 1.68-second 10-yard split. He plays well in confined spaces and has the power to bench press offensive linemen away from him so he can find the football and make a play. Last year at NC State he played close to 340 pounds and still consistently looked like one of the most efficient movers in the trenches. That's rare. He doesn't have incredible length (33-inch arms) but he's got all "the other ingredients."

Belichick wish list at defensive end

"DEs: All-around player. Big, strong and can run," Jeremiah continued. "These are the hardest guys to find. Would rather have the big strong guy than the faster guy to stop the run first and can substitute in for the pass-rush. 1: You cannot get knocked off the line. 2. Size over speed at defensive end. 3. Pressure up the middle for the QB can cause more problems than guys running around the corner. 4. Frame and growth potential are very important."

Defensive end: Christian Barmore, Alabama

2021 NFL Draft Highlights: Christian Barmore


All-around player, huh? Does Barmore fit the mold? He sure is big (6-4, 310, 35-inch arms, 10-inch hands). Based on how he discarded future pro linemen in the College Football Playoff, he's strong. And he clocked a 4.93-second 40 at his pro day, placing him in the 73rd percentile of interior defensive linemen. That's moving. He can run. Belichick notes he'd rather have a strong player rather than a pass-rusher, but Barmore can do both from any alignment. He may not be equipped to take on double-teams and hold his ground from Week 1 of his rookie season, but it looks like he still has "growth potential" so perhaps in the right program he could develop into that type of early-down run-stuffing end. But there's no question he can "pressure up the middle" right now. And in 2021, that's the more valuable trait.

Belichick wish list at outside linebacker

"OLBs: Big, rangy guy who can run if you can get them," Jeremiah continued. "They're usually the first-round picks. Settle for guys who can stay on the line. Long arms, quick hands. The 6-2 OLBs are hard to like even if they can run upfield. They're small with no range. OLBs need size, speed and athletic ability."

Outside linebacker: Jayson Oweh, Penn State

Belichick has not feared using 6-2 outside linebackers in the past. Maybe the most talented linebacker Belichick has ever drafted, Dont'a Hightower (who plays both inside and outside), hit the 2012 combine at 6-2, 265 pounds. But if we're eliminating players with that type of frame from this particular discussion, that means someone like Georgia's Azeez Ojulari (6-2, 249) will reluctantly be crossed off and Oweh will be the choice. Physically he defines "big, rangy and can run." He's 6-5, 257 pounds with 35-inch arms. He posted absurd numbers at his pro day, including a 4.39-second 40 (100th percentile), a 134-inch broad (100th), a 40-inch vertical (96th), a 6.84-second cone (96th) and a 4.15-second shuttle (95th). He's a rare specimen. He didn't have a sack last season, but evaluators don't care. He was disruptive. And he has traits that can't be coached. Traits Belichick coveted back in the day and still does.

Belichick wish list at inside linebacker

"Inside LBs: Has to be able to play in close quarters, instinctive, explosive tacklers who can face up and knock guys back," Jeremiah said. "Can play zone defense and not be put in man-to-man situations. Good blitzers. Must be football smart. Don't need great intelligence. Need instincts. Quickness and aggressiveness, leverage and explosive power."

Inside linebacker: Zaven Collins, Tulsa

2021 NFL Draft Highlights: Zaven Collins


Think Collins is built to "face up and knock guys back" and be a "good blitzer?" He checked into this year's combine (no workouts, but medicals) at 6-foot-5, 270 pounds. That is gargantuan, making his already-explosive 122-inch broad jump and 35-inch vertical even more so. Evaluators wonder if he's physical enough for their liking, but coaches love what they see on tape. He's tall, but when he plays low, he has explosive power to move offensive linemen and destroy ball-carriers.

Plus, he might be one of the two best zone defenders at the position in the draft. The best in coverage overall is Notre Dame's Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah -- who weighs 50 pounds less than Collins. The length (34-inch arms) and coordinated movement skills that Collins brings to the table make him almost impossible to throw around, and he has soft hands (five picks, 13 pass breakups in three seasons) to make quarterbacks pay if they try. He's instinctive, too. Just watch this game-winning pick-six where he deviates from his initial rush plan because he diagnoses the formation and pre-snap action to determine where the football will go. Right now he may be more of a "Will" linebacker who excels in space (think Jamie Collins) as opposed to a "Mike" (Hightower, Jerod Mayo). But Collins is one of the best fits for Belichick in this class and could be New England's first pick off the board.

Belichick wish list at safety

"Safeties: Tacklers. Especially at the safety spot," Jeremiah continued. "Want to be at least 200 pounds. Speed 4.5-4.6 range. Need range at the two deep safeties. Do not need mental giants. Need size/speed guy. Have to be able to cover man-to-man. The 200-pound 4.75 tough guy cannot play for us. Guy has to be able to play the pass. The traditional strong safety guy vs. the run is not what we need. Former corners moved inside to safety might be ideal if they have size. Ball skills and judgment are essential, more so than pure speed and athleticism."

Safety: Trevon Moehrig, TCU

UCF's Richie Grant, who dominated at the Senior Bowl, might be the best fit in this year's class... But if we're going off of this description, Grant (197 pounds) misses the weight requirement by a hair. So Moehrig it is. At 6-1, 202 pounds he's got the frame. He also has the ball production (28 pass breakups, seven picks) so you know this guy has the ball skills and judgment Belichick deems "essential." He's also not a bad athlete with a 4.5-second 40 and a 4.19 shuttle time.

Belichick wish list at cornerback

"CBs: Tackle and force guys," Jeremiah added. "You need one pure cover corner, 5-10 range and up. Cannot put guys on the field who cannot tackle. Size becomes a factor. Small cover corner guys a liability. Intelligence on defense is not a great factor. DBs have to work well together like an offensive line. Need a sense of teamwork and unselfishness. Five potential problems: 1. Tackling. 2. Selfishness. 3. You need size. Big, physical, strong guys. 4. Need competitiveness. Guys that play hard for 60 minutes. What does a guy do on the PAT? 5. Need symmetry in defense."

Cornerback: Zech McPhearson, Texas Tech

Unless you're deep into draft prep at this point, odds are you haven't heard of McPhearson. Well, consider this your introduction. We know the best cover corners are coming out of the SEC this year in Alabama's Patrick Surtain and South Carolina's Jaycee Horn. But this description Belichick laid on his scouts in 1991 focuses on tackling, of all things. Different game back then, right? But to stay true to the exercise here, we present you with one of the best tacklers at the position this year. McPhearson transferred to Texas Tech in 2019 after three years at Penn State. He was a team captain in 2020 and has been renowned for his football character by coaches so "selfishness" won't be an issue. And at 5-11, 196 pounds he's just over the 5-10 threshold Belichick referenced. Then there's this: "What does the guy do on the PAT?" McPhearson blocked three in his career. Rare. He has almost 500 special teams snaps to his name. He's tough. A competitor. A sound tackler. If he's there late on Day 2 or early on Day 3, he feels like Belichick's type. Throwback.