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Western Carolina’s Keion Crossen worked his way onto Patriots’ ‘radar screen’

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On Saturday, Keion Crossen checked in as the first Western Carolina NFL draft pick in 24 years.

Western Carolina v Alabama Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Things worked out well the last time the New England Patriots turned to a Western Carolina Catamount.

That run, catch and pass for touchdowns in October 2001 against the Indianapolis Colts? Those eight completions and 107 yards in the divisional playoff game against the Oakland Raiders? The out-routed TD from quarterback Drew Bledsoe in the AFC title bout against the Pittsburgh Steelers, then the out-and-up in Super Bowl XXXVI courtesy of Tom Brady against the St. Louis Rams?

David Patten rings all those bells.

But another Western Carolina product made his way to Foxborough over the weekend. And unlike the wideout, who retired in 2010, served as an assistant coach at his alma mater, and cut his teeth doing landscaping, working as an electrician, loading 70-pound bags coffee beans onto trucks and stopping in the Arena Football League after going undrafted, Keion Crossen has a chance to take a more direct route.

New England selected Crossen in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL draft, at No. 243 overall, on Saturday.

The 5-foot-9, 178-pound cornerback became just the eighth Western Carolina alum to be drafted since the merger in the process.

WESTERN CAROLINA’S POST-MERGER DRAFT PICKS

  • 1972: Steve Williams, DE, Round 10, No. 252 overall
  • 1982: Eddie McGill, TE, Round 10, No. 259 overall
  • 1985: Louis Cooper, LB, Round 11, No. 305 overall
  • 1986: Clyde Simmons, DE, Round 9, No. 233 overall
  • 1988: Kirk Roach, K, Round 5, No. 135 overall
  • 1993: Willie Williams, DB, Round 6, No. 152 overall
  • 1994: Andrew Jordan, TE, Round 6, No. 179 overall
  • 2018: Keion Crossen, CB, Round 7, No. 243 overall

“I had no idea what would happen in the draft,” Crossen told the New England media on his post-draft conference call, via Patriots.com. “Obviously it’s not my job to figure out who’s going to take me, who’s not going to take me. I did what I had to do on pro day and all coming up to the draft. I was just praying, being patient and God bless that the Patriots did choose me.”

Crossen did do what he had to during his pro day. The non-combine invite hailing from the FCS ran a reported 4.33-second 40-yard dash and 6.73-second three-cone drill while leaping for a 39.5-inch vertical and 10-foot-11 broad jump on a campus other than his own.

“The way this guy kind of got on the radar screen initially was he worked out at the Wake Forest pro day,” Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said in his press conference after Day 3 drew to a close, “so that’s where he showed up and tested extremely well.”

Those marks came after the senior posted 67 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and seven pass deflections in 2017.

Crossen compiled 165 tackles, three interceptions and 19 passes defended during his 46-game career in the Southern Conference. The 23-game starter averaged 29.4 yards per kickoff return in a limited handful of opportunities as well.

“A lower level of competition, obviously, at Western Carolina,” Caserio added of Crossen, a two-time SoCon defensive player of the week. “He showed up on a big stage just from a workout perspective. It really blew it out of the water. He’s undersized, just from a size standpoint, but he’s athletic. He runs well, he’s explosive, he’s real competitive, probably more of a perimeter corner.”

Crossen’s own scouting report reinforces that description.

“I’m a humble player, if you will. I’m a physical player,” he said. “I think my game speaks for itself. I don’t do anything outside of my job. That’s what I’m looking forward to doing with the Patriots, just doing my job, whatever that may be. I’m just ready to learn and get ready to work for the Patriots.”

Time will tell whether Crossen will go on to chip into those 641 regular-season NFL games that the seven Catamounts drafted before him combined for. The Patriots, who worked him out Cullowhee, N.C., will get a shot at finding out.

“He’s a player. He’s young, he’s athletic, he runs well, great attitude,” said Caserio. “When you guys talk to him, this guy’s got a lot of energy. He’s real positive, really upbeat, so hopefully he brings that mentality and that mindset here to New England when he shows up here in a couple weeks.”

Crossen’s draft selection came five rounds after the Patriots traded up to take Florida corner Duke Dawson at No. 56 overall. They will join a depth chart that features Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jason McCourty, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones, Ryan Lewis and Jomal Wiltz.