The New England Patriots had seven picks in this year's NFL Draft and Bill Belichick used three of his seven picks on Rutgers Scarlet Knights players. Belichick added a fourth when he signed undrafted free agent cornerback Brandon Jones after the draft had ended. Why, though, did Bill Belichick invest so much of his draft on players from a program that only went 9-4 in a relatively weak Big East conference?
The answer is quite simply, loyalty.
Bill Belichick and former coach and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano have a pretty great working relationship. It all goes back to when Belichick's son, Stephen, attended Rutgers. Stephen was a member of the Rutgers lacrosse team and Belichick frequented the campus on a regular basis. Stephen also served as a long snapper for the Scarlet Knights when he was a senior at Rutgers. Also, Schiano spent a lot of time at Patriots practices in the past during his tenure at Rutgers.
Bill Belichick was also a huge factor in getting Schiano his current gig in Tampa. Belichick gave a glowing recommendation of Schiano to the Glazer family, the owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and was hired shortly after.
Belichick has done this in the past with players from the Florida Gators due to the friendship between Belichick and former Gators coach Urban Meyer. The Patriots drafted Aaron Hernandez, Jermaine Cunningham, and Brandon Spikes and they are all still on the Patriots roster. However, Florida plays in the SEC, the toughest division in college football, where many, many players are NFL ready and the talent is deep and rich. It made sense for Belichick to draft players from Florida, but Rutgers?
Belichick's love affair with the Scarlet Knights all started in 2010 when the Pats used their first round pick on cornerback Devin McCourty. McCourty surprised a lot of people with a very good rookie campaign with seven interceptions.
The Patriots later brought in Rutgers players like wide reciever Tiquan Underwood, known mainly for his high style and being cut from the Pats a day before Super Bowl XLVI rather than his playing style, and defensive end Alex Silvestro, the player who replaced Underwood on the Super Bowl XLVI roster. Both Underwood and Silvestro are no longer on the Patriots roster with Underwood playing for Schiano in Tampa Bay and Silvestro with the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
One head scratching pick in this year's draft was the Patriots third round pick Duron Harmon. Harmon never performed at the NFL Combine and little was known about the safety from, you guessed it, Rutgers. Harmon probably would have gone undrafted or a very late round pick, but Belichick used a third rounder on him. Far be it from me to question Belichick's strategy, but why use such an early pick on him. Maybe Belichick knows something that the other scouts don't know since he knows Rutgers very well.
Belichick has said that he and Schiano both get players cut from the same cloth. Belichick liked that the three Rutgers players he drafted, Harmon, Logan Ryan, and Steve Beauharnais, are team players and puts the team in front of them rather than being selfish, i.e., the Patriot Way.\
Maybe this experiment will work. Belichick has made odd decisions in the past that has worked before like drafted the little used Matt Cassel from USC rather than the record breaking quarterback from Hawaii, Timmy Chang. Cassel filled in admirably for the injured Tom Brady and almost made the playoffs, if it weren't for a tiebreak with the Miami Dolphins and an awful 8-8 San Diego Charger squad making the playoffs.
Belichick is a smart football mind and maybe he knows something about the Rutgers football team that the other scouts don't know, or maybe Belichick just spends enough time at Rutgers to see if these guys have NFL talent or not.