FOXBORO, Mass. — The Razorbacks are the new Scarlet Knights.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s well-known infatuation with Rutgers players has in recent years morphed into an affinity for University of Arkansas products.
Since 2011, the Patriots have drafted five former Arkansas players, the most of any school. They selected quarterback Ryan Mallett in the third round in 2011, defensive end Jake Bequette in the third in 2012, defensive end Trey Flowers in the fourth in 2015, tight end A.J. Derby in the sixth in 2015 and defensive end Deatrich Wise in the fourth last month.
What’s more, New England also signed two more ex-Razorbacks as undrafted free agents this year, scooping up linebacker Brooks Ellis and wide receiver Cody Hollister.
Why have the Patriots plucked so many players out of Fayetteville? Wise could only speculate, but he pointed to the similarities between how Belichick and Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema run their respective programs.
“(There are a lot of similarities) between the program here and the program in college,” Wise said Thursday at Gillette Stadium. “They both teach mental toughness. They both teach things that pretty much transfer over to the league — how to take care of your body, mental and physical toughness.
“The terminology is kind of similar, and just how they run their whole program. From the top to the bottom, show everybody respect. I don’t care if it’s a CEO, a GM, a head coach or a janitor or cafeteria lady. Show everybody respect. That’s what Arkansas taught me, and that’s exactly what I’m learning here, as well.”
Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio commended Bielema’s work in a post-draft news conference after New England selected Wise.
“(Wise) played in a good program,” Caserio said. “Coach Bielema does an outstanding job, a lot of respect for his program and the players that they put out. Trey Flowers is a good example.”
Flowers, who led the Patriots in sacks last season and had a monster game in Super Bowl LI, has enjoyed by far the most NFL success of any of the players listed above. Mallett currently is backing up Joe Flacco in Baltimore after failing to earn the starting job in Houston. Derby was traded to Denver last season. Bequette is out of the league.
Regardless, Wise said he’s proud to have played for a school that has produced so many future Patriots.
“It’s a sense of pride, because it shows what Arkansas does for their players,” he said. “It shows Arkansas holds itself to a high standard, and it’s exactly what the Patriots look for in their players.”
As a fourth-round pick, Wise is a lock to make the roster as a rookie. Ellis and Hollister have much more difficult paths ahead of them.
“Those guys are working hard, definitely,” Wise said of his former college teammates. “Brooks … we learn from each other. He’s running, I’m running. We’re running plays. He’s still my middle linebacker, so we still communicate. It’s awesome seeing how he works. Very smart athlete.
“Cody, on the other hand, when I do see him work, he’s also working very hard. I always see him talking to the older players. I always see him doing extra drills, him and his brother (tight end Jacob Hollister) studying playbooks. Both smart players, both work hard, and I’m looking forward to them in the future.”
Thumbnail photo via Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY Sports Images