FOXBORO, Mass. — If the 49ers hadn’t rated Isaac Sopoaga so highly, the newly-acquired Patriots defensive tackle could have joined New England nine years earlier.
Bill Belichick said the Patriots talked about drafting Sopoaga back in 2004, but San Francisco jumped earlier than New England was willing to.
“Absolutely, yeah, absolutely. We talked about taking him and we were going to take him and we were just a round late,” Belichick said. “But we’d already taken Vince [Wilfork] obviously. But you can never have too many defensive linemen. That was kind of the conversation. He was right there. We were ready to take him. We said, ‘Well, you know, we can get him one round earlier.’ We’d already taken a couple guys and we probably waited a little bit too long on that one.”
The Patriots took safety Guss Scott nine picks before Sopoaga was taken by the 49ers. They took another safety, Dexter Reid, nine picks later.
Belichick said Sopoaga probably could have gone two or three rounds earlier based on how his career has gone. The Hawaii product has been a starter since 2008.
“A pretty good fourth-round pick, I’d say,” Belichick said. “If you knew what his career was going to be, he could have gone in the second — he couldn’t have gone in the first ahead of some people who were drafted in that round obviously. No, I’d say he’s had a real good career. To be a fourth-round pick that’s done what he’s done, I’d say not too many of them have done that, right? So, I think it’s been pretty good.”
One defensive tackle who came out of college in 2004 that was not on the Patriots’ radar was Tommy Kelly. Kelly was scooped up by the Raiders after going undrafted out of Mississippi State. Kelly was invited to the combine that year and ran an impressive 4.87-second 40-yard dash at 6-foot-6 and nearly 300 pounds. He was projected by some as a third-rounder, according to NFLDraftScout.com.
“I think Tommy Kelly was off a lot of people’s radar,” Belichick said. “I’ve talked to Mike Lombardi about him because of course he had him out in Oakland. He was kind of a guy that really slipped through the cracks. I know when Mike took him out there, he was thinking it was a, ‘We’ll take a shot at him’ kind of thing. I’d say it was a great find by Mike. What a career Tommy has had from being an undrafted guy. He’s had an excellent career. I think Mike really found him and then once he started playing, then everyone in the league could see he was a pretty good player. I wish we had seen him or been able to see what Mike saw because really there wasn’t any action on him. Then once everybody saw him play, it was like, ‘Oh my God, how did we miss this guy?’”
Of course, New England has Kelly now. He was having a productive season before going down with knee injury against the Bengals.