The New England Patriots selected Youngstown State EDGE Derek Rivers with the 83rd pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. Youngstown State is a small school, but Patriots head coach Bill Belichick doesn’t think that should impact Rivers’ contributions in the NFL.
“[Rivers] played competitively in the all-star games and in a good program there with Coach [Bo] Pelini who we know very well,” Belichick said after the end of round three. “Bo does a great job with his players and his team. Derek’s been in a good system, has been well-coached. Even though he’s from a smaller school we’ll see what he can do for himself here, as well, when all is said and done.”
Rivers was primarily an edge defender in college and Belichick implied that is where he envisions the rookie to play in the NFL- although he left the door open for potential time at linebacker.
“Once we get the player, [we’ll] work with him,” Belichick shrugged when asked about Rivers’ position in the NFL.
After the draft, Rivers said that few 3-4 teams considered Rivers at linebacker and believed that he could make the transition if needed.
“In high school I played linebacker a lot,” Rivers explained. “My junior year, I played a little bit of linebacker. And then we stood up a lot, a good bit this year. I mean, we peeled on a couple backs every now and again, but for the most part, I mean, not too much. Like I said, the past four years I had my hand in the dirt, so that’s about it.”
Rivers projects to be a 6’4, 250 pound edge defender in the Patriots scheme- Rivers said he would add whatever weight the coaching staff deems necessary- and comes from a solid coaching system under Bo Pelini, who served as the Patriots linebackers coach from 1997-99 and who coached against Bill Belichick.
“Coach Pelini has been an NFL coach, been a Division One head coach,” Belichick said. “They were in a championship game there at Youngstown. He does a great job. Visiting with Derek [Rivers] last week, or two weeks ago – whenever it was when he was in here – he’s obviously been in a good program. He’s been well-coached, and sure, it’s a big adjustment for him or anybody else moving to the National Football League. I think he’s been in a solid program.”
Rivers believes that Pelini has been a positive influence on his growth as a player.
“Bo was awesome, man,” Rivers said. “He was like another father to me as far as when he came to Youngstown. I mean, he took our team to another level. Just the little things that he focused on as far as accountability, doing all the little things right – I mean, those were the things that Bo emphasized and those were the things that Bo instilled in me.”
Rivers relayed a quote from Pelini that drove him to greater success in life, after struggling to find a college football program due to his grades and SAT scores.
“‘What you do off the field is going to reflect on how you play on the field,’” Rivers recited. “So I was a non-qualifier in high school. At Youngstown, I’m probably going to graduate with a 3.0, and it makes sense. If you’re lazy off the field, you’re going to be lazy on the field. If you miss assignments in class, you may miss assignments on the field.”
And the last word to describe Rivers would be “lazy.”
“I’m a hard worker,” Rivers said. “You get work ethic out of me. I do whatever the coaches want me to do, and that’s the type of guy I am...I do more than what’s just asked of me, and that’s the type of player they get – a guy that he does more than what’s just asked of them and he does everything that the coaches want him to do. I listen to whatever my coaches need me to do. I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it 100 percent.”
Rivers was not expecting to go to the Patriots in the draft, but he was thrilled when he received his phone call.
“Man, I was shaking,” Rivers said. “It was an overwhelming feeling. To God be the glory. It’s all because of him. So that was awesome. It was a blessing.”
Rivers also mentioned that he had a visit where he met with Belichick and the Patriots coaching staff.
“It was awesome, man,” Rivers said about his meeting with Belichick. “I mean, we talked ball. I love Coach Belichick. I love everything he is and what he stands for and how he coaches, his demeanor. I mean, he’s an awesome dude, man. I could learn a lot from him...there’s just so much I can learn from those guys that were [on the Patriots Super Bowl team], as far as just the commitment that those guys have, the type of coaching that’s in that locker room. I’m just ready to learn from those guys and get better with those guys.”
Rivers joins a strong edge defender rotation with Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich, and Kony Ealy and should have a full year in the system before he becomes a larger contributor. He will learn from the coaching staff and players as he grows into the NFL player he needs to be.