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Georgia is Bill Belichick’s latest NFL Draft crush. Here’s why he picks college teammates almost every year.

The Patriots legend spends a lot of time thinking about building relationships, rather than just building a roster.

Kirby Smart and Bill Belichick USA Today Sports

In some ways, football is like any professional industry. Relationships are key on the gridiron just as they are in any boardroom. Bill Belichick doesn’t project the friendliest public image, but the relationships he’s built have helped him mold the Patriots.

In the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, his Pats took two Georgia players, offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn and running back Sony Michel, within eight picks of each other.

These two Georgia picks are part of a Belichick trend.

Since he took over in 2000, the Patriots have taken two players from the same school in 13 different drafts. In the same span, the rest of the AFC East has done it a combined 15 times — the Bills eight times, the Dolphins four, the Jets three.

Part of that has to do with turnover. Not counting interims, the rest of the teams in the East have had 19 different head coaches during Belichick’s run. It’s hard for a front office to have a trend when it’s only around for four years.

There are plenty of ways the Patriots set themselves apart during the draft process. They don’t draft on need, and they trade all over the place. Both those contribute to the Patriots’ draft board not being big, as player personnel director Nick Caserio explains:

”I would say it varies year to year, but I would say our draft board is smaller than most,” he explained. “We are trying to find players that we feel comfortable with on all levels that we would actually draft. Not that are going to get drafted. Three-hundred players or whatever it is are going to get drafted. It’s players that we would draft, that we would actually feel comfortable with in our program in some capacity.”

If the Patriots don’t have a draftable grade on players at a certain spot, they trade back. They don’t take players just to take players. That’s how they came to take four players in the 2017 draft but 12 in 2010, including three in the second round.

If you’re going to have a small draft board, you need to be intimately familiar with the guys on it. There can be no superfluous names. A few years ago, coaching friend Urban Meyer said Belichick told him, “At this point in my career, I want to coach guys I like. I want to coach guys I want to be around, and that’s it, and I’m not going to coach anybody else.”

By that logic, he’d also highly value players who like each other. College teammates, for example.

Belichick’s affinity for certain college staffs is a big part of this approach.

Belichick’s bromance with Nick Saban is well known from their days working together at the Cleveland Browns. Belichick took two of Saban’s LSU players in the 2002 draft within nine picks of each other.

He took two Fresno State players in 2005, both coached by Pat Hill, Belichick’s former TE/OL coach in Cleveland.

He was also quite taken by Meyer-era Florida players. He took two Gators in the 2006 draft and then three in that huge 2010 class, including two second-rounders in linebackers Jermaine Cunningham and Brandon Spikes. This wasn’t a coincidence:

When NFL front office personnel assembled in Gainesville for Florida’s pro day that spring, it represented one of the best groups of talent scouts had ever observed at one university. Nine Gators were taken in the first 159 picks.

“I felt like we were working out half of the first and second round,” Belichick said. “Those kids are very focused on football. Football’s important to them. They’re in a good program.”

A few didn’t work out, and if you wanted to hypothesize further, you could point out the Pats haven’t taken any Ohio State players from Meyer’s teams.

Belichick also loves Rutgers. He especially did when friend Greg Schiano was coaching there.

He’s sung the program’s praises here, here, here, and here. Schiano almost went to work for Belichick this season, and Belichick’s son, Steve, played at Rutgers as a walk-on and got his start in coaching there. (He’s now the Pats’ safeties coach.) In 2013, the Patriots took three Scarlet Knights, including Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan, two former Schiano recruits, within eight picks of each other. Rutgers product Devin McCourty is a six-time team captain as well.

He seems fond of NC State these days. He took two players from Dave Doeren’s Wolfpack in the third round of the 2016 draft, and he ran players through pro day drills in Raleigh this spring:

The Michel and Wynn picks suggest that Georgia coach Kirby Smart’s program is a current apple of Belichick’s eye.

A month before the draft, Belichick headlined Smart’s coaching clinic on Georgia’s campus, where he also made friends with the Rams and pulled off a big trade. He ran players through drills at Georgia’s pro day around the same time.

Bill Belichick leads Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy in a drill at UGA Pro Day.

Posted by UGA DawgNation – Georgia Bulldogs on Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Smart was Saban’s defensive coordinator for years, and you see how the circle of coaching overlaps. While Smart was at Alabama, he flew up to Massachusetts to pick Belichick’s brain. He came back with a “do your job” mantra and the knowledge of how New England defines player roles.

Smart is building the damned Death Star in Athens with historically good recruiting, so the pipeline to New England may just be starting.

While Belichick does plenty of things his own way, relying on familiarity doesn’t make him an outlier. The success he’s been able to maintain with the Pats, however, certainly does.