Much has been made about the New England Patriots connection with former Rutgers University players. The Patriots selected three players from the Rutgers Scarlet Knights program in the 2013 NFL Draft. New England also recently signed two undrafted free agents from Rutgers, totaling eight former Scarlet Knight players on the Patriots’ roster.
The linking to Rutgers is obvious for head coach Bill Belichick as his son played college football for the Scarlet Knights. Belichick has also grown close to former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, who is about to enter his second year as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Belichick has a strong belief that these former Rutgers players can produce for the Patriots because of their football background. Belichick trusts the foundation at Rutgers, and thus has no problem giving as many players from that program the chance to make the Patriots roster.
What can we expect production wise from the former Scarlet Knights on the Patriots this season? Well, six of the eight players from Rutgers are on the defense side of the ball and have a chance to impact an improving defensive unit.
Devin McCourty, a 2010 draftee from Rutgers, has cemented his status as a starting safety on the Patriots. McCourty is a defensive captain and is on pace to have a strong season after moving away from the cornerback position.
Defensive end Justin Francis, a 2012 undrafted free agent, was a starter by the end of the regular season with all the injuries to the defense. He is renowned for his work ethic and should make a decent contribution to the Patriots’ defense in 2013.
All three Rutgers draftees on the Pats’ roster from the 2013 class could play a major role in the defense, particularly third-round picks Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon. Cornerback Ryan and safety Harmon may see significant playing time in their rookie seasons’, especially if injuries pile up on the secondary. Seventh-round pick Steve Beauharnais is a physical linebacker that has a great chance to make the 53-man roster come September.
The remaining former Scarlet Knights players are long shots to make the team. Offensive tackle Kevin Haslam, who played sparingly for the San Diego Chargers last season, is far down on the depth chart for one of the top offensive lines in the league.
Cornerback Brandon Jones and wide receiver Mark Harrison also face uphill battles to make the roster. But both players do not have to look far to find a source of motivation as former Scarlet Knight Justin Francis thrived in the Patriots’ system, despite not being drafted.
The production of the Rutgers players will be watched closely throughout the season to evaluate another unorthodox experiment from the highly-intelligent football-minded Bill Belichick.