The 2013 NFL Draft saw the New England Patriots devote an almost comical amount of their selections to one school in particular.
It's the largest state university in New Jersey. Its mascot--depending on what campus you're attending--could be the Knights, Raiders or Raptors. It was once called Queen's College and admitted only male students. It's also where Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano cut his football-leathered teeth during the Aughts.
Schiano is a widely reported friend and confidant of Bill Belichick, so the draft-day connection made an obvious bit of sense. But a calculated mind like Belichick wouldn't grab half of a Division I's defensive backfield for previous favors and sheer enjoyment.
Rutgers' defense is not an Alabama, or an LSU. It didn't boast a headline-grabbing Manti Te'o or a veritable highlight reel like Jadeveon Clowney. What it was was a blue-collar, hard-hat wielding unit that flew criminally under the radar in 2012.
Well, not 'criminally' if you're an avid fan of college football. Rutgers did produce two-time Big East defensive player of the year Khaseem Greene and four more standouts for the first-team Big East. On draft day, they were unheralded, overlooked, passed over. Not in New England.
In the third round, the Patriots selected CB Logan Ryan and S Duron Harmon. In the seventh, LB Steve Beauharnais. After the drafting dust had settled, New England signed undrafted free agent CB Brandon Jones. The Patriots were single-handedly responsible for selecting nearly 20% of all drafted Big East players, and 42% of all drafted Rutgers players.
What Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio likely saw was a championship-caliber defense filled to the brim with talented, high-character guys. Belichick was determined to throw a heavy handful of picks against the wall and hopefully have at least one difference-maker stick from the unyielding Scarlet Knights, a team that finished in the top 20 in six major defensive categories last season:
(4) Scoring Defense: 14.15 ppg
(10) Total Defense: 311.62 ypg
(17) Pass Efficiency Defense: 111.2
(6) Rushing Defense: 97.15 ypg
(T-8) Red Zone Defense: .68%
(9) Turnovers Gained: 32
In a star-lacking draft that was as good a time as any to round out a roster with quality depth, Belichick seemed to have other plans in mind with his cast of Scarlet Knights when he spoke with SiriusXM NFL Radio:
"They're all pretty mature players. They've been in a real good program. Coach (Greg) Schiano recruited a real good senior class that we saw this year. Again, it's a group that's been in a good program. They've performed well, and they're probably as ready for professional football as just about any kids coming out of college."
S Duron Harmon helped confirm Belichick's unwavering belief at minicamp:
"It just literally feels like Rutgers," Harmon said. "I see where Coach Schiano got some of his sayings, the structure of his program from."
It should be also noted that Rutgers' total defense was in the top 20 nationally in three of Schiano's last five seasons there.
It's no secret that Belichick has struggled to draft game-changing defensive talent during his tenure with the Patriots, but if the Schiano-led Bucs are to be believed, he may have one of the country's premier evaluators a mere phone call away.
And for a team that appears to need one more push or two away on the defensive side of the ball to cross that fated finish line, the 2013 NFL Draft may be exactly what the doctor ordered--scarlet-hued lab coat and all.