Bill Belichick’s propensity for drafting Rutgers players is well known. But Belichick hasn’t selected and signed those former Scarlet Knights to the New England Patriots because of their fancy red uniforms, or because he knows they ate sandwiches from the New Brunswick, N.J., Grease Trucks during their years on the Rutgers campus.
Belichick likes those players because he trusts their college coach. If Devin McCourty and Logan Ryan could play, and survive, in Greg Schiano’s program, they will probably follow the no-nonsense “Patriot Way.”
That’s why Belichick doesn’t always take the most talented player available when the Patriots are on the clock in the NFL draft, which has driven Patriots fans mad ever since Belichick took over as head coach and general manager in 2000.
Belichick dropped a quote bomb before the 2013 season started: “We like to say that dependability is more important than ability.”
Suddenly, everything made sense. That quote single-handedly explained why the Patriots spent a third-round pick on Duron Harmon in the 2013 draft (a pick that, after one year, has worked out quite well).
Belichick drafted Harmon because he could depend on him. He had talked to him, his son knew him from his days as a Rutgers walk-on, and, if Harmon could survive at Rutgers, he could survive being on the Patriots with Belichick.
Belichick’s coaching tree hasn’t flourished in the NFL, but it’s done just fine in the college ranks. And the better that Belichick’s favorite college coaches fare, the more set the Patriots will be for the future.
Some think that Belichick’s drafting choices are driven by pure madness, but there is a certain method to his approach. When Belichick likes a college coach, he’s more apt to draft players from that school’s program.
Sometimes that coach is a branch from the Belichick tree — like Nick Saban, Al Groh, Pat Hill, Charlie Weis, Bill O’Brien and Kirk Ferentz — while some are coaches Belichick just trusts — like Schiano, Urban Meyer, Brian Kelly and Randy Edsall. Check out a sampling of players Belichick has drafted from trusted programs below.
Michigan St.: offensive tackle Greg Randall (2000), safety T.J. Turner (2001)
LSU: quarterback Rohan Davey (2002), defensive lineman Jarvis Green (2002), defensive lineman Marquise Hill (2004)
Alabama: defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick (2010), linebacker Dont’a Hightower (2012)
Virginia: running back Antwoine Womack (2002), Cornerback Ras-I Dowling (2011)
Fresno St.: guard Logan Mankins (2005), safety James Sanders (2005)
Florida: wide receiver Chad Jackson (2006), defensive lineman Jeremy Mincey (2006), defensive lineman Jermaine Cunningham (2010), linebacker Brandon Spikes (2010), tight end Aaron Hernandez (2010)
Ohio St.: safety Nate Ebner (2012)
Notre Dame: guard Dan Stevenson (2006), cornerback Mike Richardson (2007)
Iowa: offensive lineman Mike Elgin (2007)
Connecticut: cornerback Darius Butler (2009)
Rutgers: safety Devin McCourty (2010), cornerback Logan Ryan (2013), safety Duron Harmon (2013), linebacker Steve Beauharnais (2013)
Belichick has scooped up countless other players as undrafted free agents from familiar programs, like linebacker Jeff Tarpinian, tight end Brad Herman and offensive tackle Markus Zusevics from Ferentz’s Iowa program; defensive tackles Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis from Edsall’s Maryland program; center Braxston Cave from Brian Kelly’s Notre Dame program; wide receiver Mark Harrison and defensive end Justin Francis from Schiano’s Rutgers program and Matt Stankiewitch from Bill O’Brien’s Penn State program.
Pay attention to prospects from schools Belichick knows and trusts in the 2014 NFL draft. Right now, those would include Alabama (Saban), Iowa (Ferentz), Notre Dame (Kelly), Penn State (players O’Brien coached), Ohio State (Meyer) and Kansas (Weis). Rutgers and Oregon are still worth paying attention to, as well, since players Schiano and Chip Kelly coached and recruited are still around.
Check out the players from those schools that NFLDraftScout.com considers draftable below.
Alabama: Linebacker C.J. Mosely, safety HaHa Clinton-Dix, offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, quarterback A.J. McCarron, guard Anthony Steen, linebacker Adrian Hubbard, cornerback Deion Belue, safety Vinnie Sunseri, defensive end Ed Stinson, wide receiver Kevin Norwood and defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan
Iowa: Linebacker Christian Kirksey, tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, linebacker Anthony Hitchens and linebacker James Morris
Notre Dame: Defensive tackles Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt, offensive tackle Zack Martin, tight end Troy Niklas, wide receiver TJ Jones, linebacker Prince Shembo, guard Chris Watt, cornerback Bennett Jackson, running back George Atkinson III
Penn State: Wide receiver Allen Robinson, defensive tackle DaQuan Jones, guard John Urschel and linebacker Glenn Carson
Ohio State: Linebacker Ryan Shazier, offensive tackle Jack Mewhort, cornerback Bradley Roby, running back Carlos Hyde, guard Andrew Norwell, safety Christian Bryant, center Corey Linsley
Rutgers: Wide receiver Brandon Coleman
Oregon: Wide receiver Josh Huff, cornerback Terrance Mitchell, defensive end Taylor Hart, running back DeAnthony Thomas, tight end Colt Lyerla, safety Avery Patterson
Belichick’s relationship with Brian Kelly is a new one. The Notre Dame coach asked Belichick for advice after the Fighting Irish lost to Alabama in the 2013 BCS National Championship. Kelly later attended a Patriots training camp practice during the summer. Belichick and Kelly will play together in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am next week.
This is the year to draft as many Notre Dame prospects as possible, especially in the earlier rounds.
The players listed above should fit the outline of any Patriots mock draft this offseason. At least one or two likely will wind up on the Patriots’ roster for the 2014 season.
Belichick has trusted sources to find out intricacies about those players that sometimes scouting reports and pre-draft meetings can’t show. He can ask how they practiced, how much they love football, how well they take criticism and coaching, and how much they’ve improved.
Belichick’s Rutgers connection might be drying up, but he’ll find his new trusted program soon.