ESPN's Mike Reiss tagged sixth round pick DE Zach Moore out of Division II Concordia-St. Paul as a "sure-fire lock" to make the roster in 2014. He had previously given that label to fellow sixth round pick OG Jon Halapio. He also gave that same distinction to former Texans 6th round pick and rising sophomore DT Chris Jones.
To consider these late round talents as "sure-fire locks" seems to be overly-optimistic in their development, especially when those in the Bill Parcells tree, like Bill Belichick, value sixth and seventh round picks as opportunities to claim priority free agents and to avoid the post-draft talent scrum.
But Reiss is going off of more than just his sources. He's going off of history.
Looking at the past six seasons of drafts (cutting the line before the deplorable 2007 draft where the Patriots were just going through the draft motions without any intention of keeping the draft picks), we're able to evaluate all the sixth and seventh round picks by Belichick and see how they've stuck with the team.
Starting with linebacker Bo Ruud in 2008 and finishing with linebacker Steve Beauharnais in 2013, the Patriots have had 17 total selections in the final two rounds of the draft (six 6th rounders, eleven 7th rounders), or nearly three per draft. Of those 17, only two did not stick with the Patriots in any capacity for their first season with the team.
Those two were both 2010 picks (the same draft class as Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Spikes, Aaron Hernandez, Zoltan Mesko, and Brandon Deaderick); 6th round center Ted Larsen, who has been a 30 game starter at both center and left guard for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; and 7th round quarterback Zac Robinson, who spent the past three seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals' practice squad.
Of the remaining 15 players who did stick with the Patriots, two were stashed on the injured reserve for their rookie season and released the following off-season, so their tenure with the team was likely for rehabilitation purposes (Ruud and 2010 7th round pick DT Kade Weston).
Four spent their rookie seasons on the practice squad; two of them were released the following off-season (2011 OLB Markell Carter, 2012 WR Jeremy Ebert); one was placed on the injured reserve and released after his sophomore season (2009 DT Darryl Richard); and one was yo-yo'd on-and-off the practice squad before ultimately being let go (2011 DB Malcolm Williams).
A final player, 2010 7th round pick and offensive tackle Thomas Welch played a few games for the Patriots as a rookie and spent some time on the practice squad, but was ultimately claimed by another team halfway into his rookie season as the Patriots tried to put him back on the practice squad.
Those nine listed players players, or roughly half of the draft picks, didn't have too much of an impact on the game-day roster, but five of them were contributors on the practice squad or as a back-end of the roster player.
The remaining eight draft picks who made the game-day roster have had a lasting impact. The quartet of 2012's 6th round DB Nate Ebner and 7th round CB Alfonzo Dennard, and 2013's 7th rounders DE Michael Buchanan and LB Beauharnais all remain on the current roster; 2009 7th round WR Julian Edelman just received a contract extension.
2009 DT Myron Pryor and 2010 DT Brandon Deaderick each stuck around for three rotational seasons at defensive tackle. 2009 6th round pick long snapper Jake Ingram lasted a season and a half.
The players who stick on the roster will last an expected two-to-three seasons, or likely until the newer and cheaper crop of sixth and seventh round picks will take their roster spots.
The current Patriots 6th and 7th round draft class of OG Halapio, DE Moore, DB Jemea Thomas, and WR Jeremy Gallon can project two of them to make the roster, with an expected third sticking on the practice squad.
There's no real rhyme or reason when looking at the players who make it to the practice squad, apart from them being physical specimens that are too raw to contribute (read: Carter, Welch, Williams). In that theme, it's likely that either Moore or Thomas would be the practice squad target, while the other is stashed as a game-day inactive for their rookie season.
It seems likely that Halapio has the inside track of making the roster due to the team's extreme need of talent in the offensive interior. Reiss believes that Moore will stick on the roster to develop at defensive end, while either veteran Will Smith or sophomore Buchanan will rotate as the depth option.
With so much talent available in the secondary, it's likely that Thomas will be the optimal practice squad option and potentially provide a depth option in case the team doesn't want to move forward with Tavon Wilson or Patrick Chung.
This leaves Gallon as the projected outsider with the logjam at wide receiver. It's possible the team will try and place him on the practice squad, but he's fallen behind due to an injury holding him out of practices.
All four players will receive a fair chance to make the final roster; if history is any sign of the future, you can expect a few of them to stick around.