It never fails. Every year, I watch the NFL Draft, waiting for the New England Patriots to make a splash pick. Every year, they do the opposite. Bill Belichick doesn't do sexy — he does sensible. He goes after his needs and seems to do so by targeting players nobody else is targeting.
As a fan of draft weekend, it's frustrating. As a fan over the last two decades, it's often satisfying — and it has become a hallmark of Belichick and the Patriots. They take guys nobody else is looking for — both in free agency and the draft — and make them stars.
Heading into the 2020 NFL Draft, I'm attempting to crack the code, so as to not be stunned and flipping through my draft guide trying to figure out who the "no-name" is that Belichick just pulled the trigger on.
Here are some players who, given the recent history of New England drafts, we might expect to be doing things "The Patriot Way" by the end of draft weekend.
It's on everyone's mind for obvious reasons, but don't expect New England to waste an early pick on a signal-caller. There are too many whispers coming out of New England about how much they actually like Jarrett Stidham and how secure they feel with Brian Hoyer as a backup.
That said, Belichick knows it's wise to take a quarterback in most drafts, so look for low-risk, high upside guys who played at big programs to be Belichick targets in the later rounds. Some names to watch are Iowa's Nate Stanley, Colorado's Steven Montez, and Vanderbilt's Riley Neal.
No roster spot is safe in New England, and that includes fan favorites and perennial producers like James White. White is heading into his sixth year in the league and the last year of his current contract. His days with the Patriots organization are very likely numbered.
Look for Belichick to target players with similar skill sets as White. Some names to keep an eye on are Clyde Edwards-Helaire of LSU (not exactly a sleeper) and Moe Neal of Syracuse.
You get the feeling that Belichick doesn't like drafting receivers, mostly because they take a while to develop. That said, this is a deep receiver class, so New England can get some real value in the later rounds. Guys like Devin Duvernay of Texas and Quintez Cephus of Wisconsin are the type of players the Patriots could steal late.
Belichick needs to figure out his tight end situation, and the 2020 draft could be where that happens. A lot of people have linked Notre Dame's Cole Kmet with the Patriots, but again, that's a bit of an obvious move for the Patriots historically.
I'd keep a closer eye out for more dynamic players at the position to be drafted by New England. That would include guys like Hunter Bryant of Washington, Thaddeus Moss of LSU, and Josiah Deguara of Cincinnati.
The Patriots have done very well drafting offensive lineman during the Belichick era. One of the reasons for that is their ability to target and draft guys who can play in a variety of positions in a variety of schemes. You can expect them to target those kinds of lineman again in 2020. Look for them to go after Netane Muti of Fresno State, Kyle Murphy of Rhode Island, or Robert Hunt of Louisiana at some point.
Belichick likes big-bodied penetrators with high football IQs in the middle of his defensive lines. There are a handful of guys coming out who fit that mold. I can see the Patriots using a first-round pick on Javon Kinlaw of South Carolina. After that, look for Belichick to target McTelvin Agim of Arkansas or Leki Fotu of Utah.
Historically, Belichick's best defenses have featured elite edge rushers at defensive end. He seems to prefer tall, lengthy guys who can disrupt passers without actually sacking them. The guys in this draft who fit that mold or have a playing style that fits in New England include Yetur Gross-Matos of Penn State, A.J. Epenesa of Iowa, and Kenny Willekes of Michigan State.
This is where IQ seems to trump all else with Belichick. He won't tolerate mental mistakes from linebackers, so unless there is an elite, can't miss athlete available, New England is drafting the smartest guy on the board at the position. David Woodward of Utah State, Markus Bailey of Purdue, and Shaquille Quarterman of Miami are all pretty good bets to end up as Patriots.
Corners who can play safety, safeties who can play corner, and safeties who can be physical with tight ends — these are all things we've seen the best Belichick defenses feature. Michael Ojemudia of Iowa, Jaylon Johnson of Utah, and Alohi Gilman of Notre Dame are all the type of defensive backs you could see playing for the Patriots.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! SBNation and Bleacher Report. He is a three-time FWAA award winner. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.