The New England Patriots have been one of the more active and successful teams in signing undrafted free agents in the past decade or so and the club has reportedly inked 7 players post draft as of May 4th. These 7 players should be excited due to the team’s recent track record with undrafted players. At the start of the 2011 regular season, the Patriots had 18 UDFAs on their 53-man roster, ranking third in the entire NFL. Not only does this team carry UDFAs, they can play vital roles and in many cases, start. Of the 18 that made the team in 2011, 6 started in the Super Bowl, 3 on each side of the ball. Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, C Dan Connolly, CB Kyle Arrington and DL Kyle Love have been solid players in New England while WR Wes Welker, a multi-time Pro Bowler, went undrafted, signed with Miami and the Patriots traded for him 2007. The message here for these 7 athletes is real simple, if you can play, you will get an opportunity in FoxBoro. The 7 players are: Offensive linemen Jeremiah Warren (South Florida) and Markus Zusevics(Iowa), Running back Brandon Bolden(Ole Miss), Defensive end/Outside linebacker Justin Francis(Rutgers) , Tight End Brad Herman(Iowa), Wide Receiver Matt Roark(Kentucky) and Defensive lineman Marcus Fortson(Miami). Lets analyze why the club has had success in this process and try to project which UDFA are a good bet to stick in 2012.
Generally, Undrafted players can enhance their chance of making any team with special teams skill and position flexibility. It is very rare that a UDFA would flat out beat out a drafted or veteran player in camp without a major injury. Common sense would tell you the more things you can do and do well, you become more attractive to a potential employer. Bill Belichick is no different. If you can only do 1 thing, you better be GREAT at it. Depth players need to fill a variety of roles and be able to contribute in multiple ways. So any offensive or defensive lineman who can play any position or 3, would be a candidate to stick. Connolly has started games at C and Guard and is an excellent special teams player. Scat back Danny Woodhead catches passes and carries the rock on draw plays then runs down the opposition’s returners in the kicking game.
The Patriots and this coaching staff also like to add players from college programs that Belichick has a relationship with. Nick Saban (Alabama), Kirk Ferentz (Iowa) Pat Hill (Ex-Fresno State), Greg Schiano (Ex-Rutgers) and Urban Meyer (Ex-Florida/Current Ohio State) are just some of the coaches that have supplied New England with players. Saban, Hill and Ferentz coached for Belichick in Cleveland during the 1990s. Generally, these staffs run pro styles defenses and offenses and players from these universities have an easier transition to the NFL. Of the 7 UDFAs the Pats have signed, 3 of them came from these coaches: Two from Iowa and one from Rutgers.
New England did a good job in last week’s draft adding potential prospects in their front 7 to aid the pass rush on defense. Drafting two edge rusher candidates and a 3 down linebacker with versatility as well as a safety from a Big 10 Power program in the first 3 rounds, The defense appears to be heading in a the right direction. The Patriots always like to add developmental front 7 types and any DL prospect has a chance with this administration in place.
Offensively, the team added veteran free agent running back Joseph Addai this weekend and competition among the runners should be fierce this offseason. The team even signed 3 fullbacks in free agency; a position the team did not carry a single player at in recent seasons. The Wide Receiver position is also loaded with proven veteran players and the Patriots will more than likely cut or trade a player who will help another team in 2012. Tight End appears set with 3rd year stars Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski entrenched and underrated free agent Daniel Fells coming aboard in free agency. The offensive line has issues with long time Left Tackle Matt Light retiring, All Pro left guard Logan Mankins coming back from a late season ACL tear and future Hall of Famer Right Guard Brian Waters not getting any younger. The team has a talented young core of linemen in Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon and Nick McDonald but the team seems to always be looking to add depth along the offensive line.
My predictions? I think 3 players stand out for different reasons. Warren reportedly had a personal workout for Belichick, Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio and pro personnel director Jeremy Licht pre-draft. He played both guard and tackle at South Florida and played well in big games. Sounds like a Patriots type. Zusevics injured his pectoral working out prior to the draft and hurt his draft stock. Prior to, he carried a grade of a 5th rounder. Like Warren, he can play multiple positions and Zusevics starred for Ferentz at Iowa. Count Warren and Zusevics among the 3. Finally, I really like Brandon Bolden. The team has depth in the backfield after the Addai move but he offers size and special teams experience. Bolden was a “gunner” in college and Belichick loves SEC players. The Patriots usually carry 4-5 runners and Bolden’s versatility could go a long way for a franchise that emphasizes it.