New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has a pattern. He sculpts his offseason activities around prospects he wants to meet with personally.
In 2009, Belichick spoke with a coach's clinic at the University of Florida with then-Gators coach (and good buddy) Urban Meyer. There, Belichick got an early look at the Gators' talent, and a year later he took three of them in the draft — Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Spikes and (gulp) Aaron Hernandez. Maybe Belichick should have come back in 2010 to do more homework on them.
In 2010, Belichick was the keynote speaker at a Rutgers football event. A few weeks later, he made Rutgers CB Devin McCourty his top selection in the draft.
In 2012, Belichick spoke at a Nebraska-sponsored coaches clinic and used the trip as an opportunity to meet with then Huskers CB Alfonzo Dennard to watch tape. Five days before, the draft Dennard assaulted a cop and saw his draft stock fall. But who rescued him from going undrafted? Yep — the Patriots in Round 7.
Last year, Belichick was part of a speaking group in Hattiesburg, Miss., and Belichick came in early enough to spend time working out and watching film with Southern Miss LB Jamie Collins, who flew under the radar despite being a freak athlete, probably because he played for an 0-12 football team. Belichick traded out of Round 1 and took Collins midway through the second round.
This past weekend Belichick went to Nashville, his birthplace and the hometown of his fiancée, to run a half-marathon. Finished with a strong time, too. But guess what he did before the race ... Belichick met with Vanderbilt OL Wesley Johnson for a workout and film sesh, according to the Tennessean's Jim Wyatt.
Now Belichick's double-duty speaking and scouting regimen doesn't guarantee that he'll draft a player he personally meets with. After all, in 2008, Belichick spoke at an Alabama coaches clinic and did not go on to draft any Crimson Tide players. (Although the Patriots did sign undrafted Alabama DE-OLB Keith Saunders that year.)
And last year, Belichick spoke at Notre Dame before the draft and chose no Irish players and signed no undrafted free agents from the school, although many have said that Belichick very well could be interested in Notre Dame's deeper crop of talent this year.
So there we have it: Outside our various mock drafts, this is about as close to a draft prediction as we'll give you. There's a decent chance that Belichick could be impressed enough with Johnson, a two-time captain who started 51 games (at guard, center and tackle, mind you) to take him. And now that we're onto Belichick's pattern, he might have to take Johnson a round earlier than most people expect him to go.
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