What Nick Caserio's Draft History and Strategy means for the Houston Texans

With the Houston Texans enjoying a bye week, let's look ahead to the 2022 NFL Draft and analyze the man who will be making nine picks (for now). Has Nick Caserio finally stepped out of the powerful shadow casted by Bill Belichick and become ready to reinvent his draft process?

Caserio has completed 13 drafts since becoming the New England Patriots Director of Player Personnel back in 2008, to becoming the Texans General Manager in 2021. With over a decade of experience, one would naturally think Caserio has gotten positive results, but in fact, more of his picks have "busted" than succeeded.

This article isn't intended to be all doom and gloom - I'm going to do my best to explain why the Patriots have had mediocre draft success, what attributes Caserio has valued in prospects and attempt to reason with why results could be different for the Texans.

Draft Pick History

To begin, let's take a broad look at all 99 of the Patriots' draft picks from 2009-2020 (Caserio's tenure as Director of Player Personnel) and attempt to grade them succinctly. I tried to simplify this grading process to four possible groups: a pick was deemed a "Good Hit" if the player earned a 3rd contract or was named a Pro Bowler/All Pro. A "Hit" was when the player earned a 2nd contract with the Patriots and conversely a "Miss" is when the player did not earn a 2nd contract. Finally, a "Bust" is when the player didn't even finish their rookie contact.

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The most glaring number here is that 52% of Caserio's picks since 2009 have busted, which certainly aligns with his personal view of the draft, "What we’re doing is total projection. There’s no experts on this. It’s an absolute projection."

That statement is true to an extent, the draft is a total crap shoot, but having over half of your draft picks not even make it through their rookie contract is not exactly reassuring when draft szn is the peak of optimism for Texans' fans this year.

On a positive note, when Caserio hits on his picks, he really hits - adding 21 players who have had an extensive NFL career (three contracts or more) including 10 players who have earned All-Pro recognition at least one time.

Caserio was particularly on fire early on in his tenure, drafting Sebastian Vollmer and Julian Edelman in 2009, Devin McCourty and Rob Gronkowski in 2010, Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon in 2011 and Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower in 2012.

However, since 2012, the Patriots have whiffed on numerous first round picks (Dominique Easley, Sony Michel, N'Keal Harry) and have only exercised their fifth year option for one of their first rounders - Isaiah Wynn.

That extremely low hit rate should be concerning for Texans' fans who are rightfully excited about the idea of having numerous first rounders in 2022, once the Deshaun Watson book is finally closed.

Now that we've seen the results, let's take a look at the Patriots' process behind their draft pick decision making and what might be going wrong.

Bill Belichick's Power

The New England Patriots are a unique organization where head coach Bill Belichick is essentially the general manager whom holds immense decision making power and the final say over many transactions. Like Belichick, Bill O'Brien gained HC+GM responsibilities but for the Texans and he ended up being spread too thin, not being able to execute either duty successfully.


While no one can argue with Belichick's coaching success, he too seems to be spread too thin and his draft success has been the biggest victim. Albert Breer has reported on numerous occasions how Patriots' scouts have left New England for other organizations where "they feel they will have a greater say in personnel decisions". Scouts felt that Belichick's own experiences with players and his connection with certain college coaches, trumped any combination of film evaluations, athletic tests or injury concerns.

The most recent Patriots' first round bust, N'Keal Harry, is a perfect example of this issue. Patriots' scouts reportedly told Bellichick of warning signs they had towards Harry but he was still drafted over AJ Brown and Deebo Samuel - whom scouts preferred to Harry - because "Harry aced his visit to Foxboro and because of Belichick's close relationship with Harry's college coach".

Luckily for the Texans, Caserio is no longer employed under Belichick and there has been insistent comments from Caserio himself and owner Cal McNair that Caserio is the sole individual responsible for final say over personnel - not Jack Easterby.

While we may never know what truly goes on behind the doors of NRG, Albert Breer has also reported that "Caserio has shown signs he'll be more inclusive with his scouts and coaches than New England was in the draft and free-agent process."

Furthermore, according to Breer, Caserio has endured a mentality change since his Patriots tenure, "Those around Caserio saw him evolve from a guy who was uptight and hyper-concerned with carrying himself as a Patriot, so to speak, early in his time as the scouting chief (2009 to 2001) to someone who was far more comfortable in his own skin and a little less 'Belichickian', at the end".

Going forward, we can only hope that Caserio has truly become the best version of himself and can strike a balance between his own drafting philosophies while collaborating with scouts and coaches to create a cohesive plan for the Texans' future. With that being said, it's time to dive into Caserio's draft philosophy and strategy as best we can with some knowledge from inside the building.

Restrictive Draft Board

Take a deep plunge down the perilous world wide web and search up "New England Patriots Draft History". After the basic listing of picks you'll find some ugly opinionated headlines such as: "7 Biggest Draft Day Mistakes in New England Patriots History", or "Patriots draft track record after the first round is actually worse than we thought", or even "A Brief History of the Patriots Struggling to Draft Wide Receivers". Looking past these, one journalistic article stood out to me the most, "Patriots' personnel approach with rookies too restrictive? Just right?".

ESPN reporter, Mike Reiss, illustrates that the Patriots utilize a "restrictive" draft board which has contributed to numerous draft day trades - five trades in the 2020 draft, seven in 2019, eight in 2018 and you get the point. As odd as it sounds, the Patriots are so willing to give up multiple mid and late round picks they had worked to accrue in season, because they were "running out of players to select".

Reiss reports that from an available pool of around 2000 draft prospects, the Patriots only deem 35-40 "realistic draft options". Caserio, not Belichick, has entrenched himself in this stance, stating, "In most drafts, just generally speaking, there's probably eight to 10 players that everybody [in the room] has conviction about."

This makes some sense in theory, even the larger draft classes don't usually get past 10 players total, so why have passionate conviction in more than that many prospects? Well, the Patriots' insistence on such strict requirements to be drafted has made the organization notorious for reaching for players, making selections that went against the majority of draft boards and directly resulting in their 52% "bust" rate.


The aforementioned N'Keal Harry in the first round of 2019 is just one example of the Patriots reaching; how about Duke Dawson in the second round of 2018, or Cyrus Jones in the second round of 2016. None of these players are currently on the Patriots roster, hell, Dawson and Jones were so bad they got traded during their rookie years.

This restrictive draft board pairs smoothly with the distribution of results of the Patriots' draft picks that I charted at the beginning of the article. Typically, you'd expect the picks to result in middling outcomes such as a "Hit" or "Miss" as there are more average/below average players in the NFL, than there are elite ones. However those two categories made up the two lowest quantities, 17% and 9% respectively.

Furthermore, 74% of the Patriots' picks fell on the extreme ends of the spectrum, either a "Good Hit" or a "Bust". This makes sense in this scenario because the Patriots were either extremely confident in their 30-45 prospects, or didn't have them on their restrictive board at all. Thus, there were likely multiple scenarios throughout the years where they couldn't trade out of their draft position and were forced to take a player who wasn't even deemed a "realistic draft option". This helps explain why the Patriots tend to move on from draft picks quicker than most franchises, they didn't even believe in them in the first place.

There is clearly a flaw in the Patriots' drafting process and 100% of the blame cannot be placed on Belichick alone. Caserio has continued his willingness to trade draft picks as the GM of the Texans in 2021 - evidenced through trading three 6ths and one 7th to select Garrett Wallow and two 4ths and one 5th to select Nico Collins.

The next question becomes, if Nick is so restrictive in his draft board, what qualities DOES he actually like to see in a prospect? Read through endless amounts of Caserio press conferences from the past decade like I have and you'll find some gems which indicate what he values and how that directly relates to the Patriots' draft history.

Intelligence and Niche Versatility over Pure Talent

Let's start this section off with a revealing quote from a Caserio presser in 2015 detailing how he approaches the draft, "Really, what we're concerned about is their role and how they fit on the team, not necessarily round or grade. So, let's figure out the player, let's define his role, what's this player going to be for our team? And then where that player actually ends up falling in the draft, that's just part of the overall process."

Again, this quote correlates to the Patriots' draft results and tendency to reach on certain players because Caserio isn't necessarily concerned about a player's round or grade projection as long as they fit the team. This is one of the few times where Caserio's words actually match his actions.

Drafting for fit should be taken into consideration but the Patriots tend to overdo it at times, prioritizing niche versatility over pure talent. They can strike gold occasionally, like finding James White, a receiving threat at running back in the 4th round in 2014 or famously Julian Edelman, a quarterback turned slot receiver in the 7th round in 2009.

However, there are far more times where the Patriots overthink it and end up with Dominique Easley in the 1st round, Jordan Richards in the 2nd or Derek Rivers in the 3rd. Texans fans know that "versatility" is valuable theoretically, however, just because a player can play multiple positions or execute multiple assignments, but only at a backup level, doesn't mean they will cut it as a starter.


The most important trait that Caserio and the Patriots have coveted - and the one that has bitten them in the ass the most - has been mental intelligence. I'm not talking about football IQ, instincts, feel for the game, whatever you want to call it. I'm talking about off-the-field smarts, the mental stamina it takes to maintain a New England Patriots' jersey.

Caserio has strong feelings on the topic of valuing competitive intelligence in a prospect, "Maybe that player retains information better than others, maybe another player takes a little bit longer. Until you actually start to go through the process, which is pretty exhaustive — meeting, installation, walkthrough, practice, make the correction on film, come back the next day and see if they can actually make some improvements — so how quickly they do that, it varies from player to player."

Want to look past the quotes? The proof is in the pudding as the "Patriots have poured resources into psychological tests" to ensure they understand a prospect's mental makeup before the draft. These tests aren't just some walk in the park, either, "One wrong answer can - and often does - remove a player from the Pats' draft board."

No one is dismissing the value of having 'smart' players but we're talking about football, not chess and yet Caserio strongly believes that mental characteristics are more indicative of success than physical ones, "What you’re trying to figure out is who can sustain whatever their level of performance is over long periods of time. Is that based on how fast a player runs or how high he jumps? No. There are some other things that are going to be more important."

This trait has been a strict requirement for as long as Caserio has been a part of the Patriots' organization and resulted in yearly restrictive draft boards and in turn, numerous busts. They've chosen brains over brawns, prioritizing smart players who will work hard and can maximize the playbook at the expense of a trade-off in talent or, in particular, athleticism.

Valuing Athleticism

During the 2021 offseason after being hired by the Texans, Caserio again showed his true colors, this time when discussing athletic traits among draft prospects, “I don’t want to say the 40 [yard dash] is like the least important number, but quite frankly, it might be the least important number, specific to certain positions.”

To be fair, Caserio was initially talking about offensive tackles and I agree, you're not going to see tackles run 40 yards downfield very often. However, the de-valuing of athletic traits has carried over to how Caserio has drafted all other positions from 2009 to 2021.

In the below graph I've organized the "Relative Athletic Score" of all 13 of Caserio's draft classes, including 2021 with the Texans. RAS is a handy tool created by Kent Lee which encompasses all the athletic testing measures that a draft prospect participated in - from the 40 yard dash to the bench press - and assigns a numerical grade on a scale of 1-10.

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For further context, each RAS score is compared among a player's position group and data goes back to 1987. Additionally, according to Lee's program, the average NFL player (backups and starters) scores an RAS of slightly under 7. The average NFL starter (from kicker to cornerback) scores an RAS of slightly above 7. Finally, the average NFL draft pick scores an RAS of 7.5, thus Caserio's draft classes' average RAS of 6.93 would be deemed below average.

Now, I promised this article wasn't going to be all gloom and doom, so here's your ounce of Texans positivity for the day. When asked by Texans reporter Drew Dougherty, what 10 traits Caserio values in a draft pick, the first one he mentioned was athleticism, "Certain physical attributes that are going to be important. Those are going to be specific to the position. Like their speed, their explosiveness. There are certain things that may be a little bit more relevant physically to whatever position that they are playing."

Has Caserio truly evolved his draft strategy since leaving the Patriots and escaping Belichick's grasp? His lone draft class with the Texans does have a slightly higher RAS (7.26) than the average of his other 12 draft classes with the Patriots (6.9).

With just five picks in 2021, two of them - Collins (9.57) and Wallow (8.12) - were classified as having "elite" and "great" athleticism while Roy Lopez (7.49) would be squarely at "average". Davis Mills earned a 6.59 and Brevin Jordan had the lowest score of 4.53, but is one of those players who plays faster than he tests and in my opinion should be classified as a "great" athlete relative to tight ends.

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With more ammo in 2022, particularly higher picks that actually appear in the first and second round, I would understand being optimistic about Caserio drafting better athletes and players (but I also believe you can find athletic players throughout all rounds, evidenced by Wallow).

Drafting better athletes with the Texans than he historically has with the Patriots is a good start for believing that Caserio has evolved his draft strategy. The other and more important lens I want to look through is the reliance on mental intelligence.

Researching the background on the five Texans' draft picks in 2021 doesn't result in a clear trend of Caserio only going after 'geniuses' or 'good boys'. Two of the five have some noteworthy accolades - Davis Mills attended Stanford and was a team captain, while Garrett Wallow was a team captain and earned All-Academic Big 12 in 2020. The last three picks - Collins, Jordan and Lopez - are not similarly accredited with tangible off-field accomplishments, but I've never talked to them and am not trying to say they are dumb or have character concerns.

I do think we can take this a positive sign that not all Caserio's draft picks for the Texans seem to fall in line with his past preference for mental traits over physical ones, but five picks is a small sample size. This class should be used as a reference point going forward for 2022 and hopefully a similar pattern continues.

With that glimmer of hope thrown your direction, let's go back to the other nine traits Caserio values which he mentioned to Dougherty:

  1. "I would say their mindset."
  2. "Do they put the team first?"
  3. "Are they willing to be coached?"
  4. "Are they willing to improve?"
  5. "Can they make corrections?
  6. "Can they make adjustments?
  7. "Can they handle a large volume of information?"
  8. "Can they transition from one opponent to the next opponent and can they reduplicate that on a week-to-week basis?"
  9. "Being able to perform consistently over the course of a long period of time and sustain that level of performance."

That is, word for word, what the transcribed interview appeared as on the official Houston Texans website and it is eerily similar to Caserio's 2015 quote provided earlier in this very article. Caserio is no longer reporting to Belichick, he doesn't have to abide by some Patriots code and provide the equivalent of 'coaches speak'. He has no incentive to provide Dougherty with false information.

There's a chicken or the egg issue here between Caserio and the Patriots and I don't quite care who started their love for tough, smart and dependable players but that this stupid mantra exists in the first place. Most importantly for the Texans, when asked any type of question, Caserio reverts back to the Patriots principles that he's echoed time and time again in Foxborough. Putting the team first, being coachable, handling large volume of information - sound familiar to anyone?


Now, I'm not here to say Caserio is just a clone of Bill O'Brien but I also know that a large portion of the fanbase feared the "Patriots South" mantra and is triggered by how Caserio's syntax echos the New England dictionary. This should've been expected from the jump, spending 20 years - Caserio started with the Patriots in 2001 as a Personnel Assistant - with one organization tends to engrain strong values. While I would love to believe Caserio has substantially changed his ways, it's too soon to tell and who knows if the Texans even want him to change in the first place.

Concluding Thoughts

The point of this article was multifold:

1. To give credence to the fact that Belichick was a detriment to the Patriots' drafting success.

2. To reveal what Caserio values in a draft prospect and how that creates a restrictive draft board which leads to mediocre draft success and numerous questionable trades.

3. To paint it clearly that Caserio values intelligence, work ethic, team fit and maaaaybe is starting to go after more athletic prospects but still holds some Patriots' values.

I want to end on the fact that I truly hope Caserio can find success for the Texans, they are my favorite team and seemingly no matter how ugly of a season they play, I will back them 1,000,000%.

But I would also be lying to you if I said I was confident in Caserio's draft acumen. Ideally, Caserio tones down his reliance on the traits which led to a 52% bust rate in his time with the Patriots and focuses more on talent, athleticism and production. These traits have proven to be more indicative of success than simply having the competitive drive to take a public lashing from Belichick and desire to go hit the books all over again.

The 2022 NFL Draft will be his biggest test yet, I just hope he aces it.