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2018 NFL draft: Patriots' affinity for the SEC on full display yet again

New England likes the Southeastern Conference.

Florida v Georgia Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

With a team representing the Southeastern Conference winning 10 of this century's 18 national college football championships, it is fair to say that the SEC is currently the dominant conference in the country. Led by an Alabama organization that could very well be described as the NCAA's version of the New England Patriots, the SEC produced top-notch talent over the years with players like Jadeveon Clowney and Cam Newton hearing their names called first overall in the draft.

It is therefore unsurprising to see the Patriots also regularly go to this well to add talent to their team. 2018 is no exception as four of the team's nine elections in this year's draft came out of an SEC school; just the latest example of the Patriots' affinity for the conference:

1-23: OT Isaiah Wynn, Georgia

1-31: RB Sony Michel, Georgia

2-56: CB Duke Dawson, Florida

7-219: QB Danny Etling, LSU

Furthermore, the Patriots are also expected to bring in four more SEC players through undrafted free agency:

CB A.J. Moore, Ole Miss

DT John Atkins, Georgia

RB Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt

DT Frank Herron, LSU

All eight players competed at what is arguably college football's highest level, which apparently also played a role in their selection by the team. “Both these players, they’re playing against some of the best players in the country on a weekly basis,” Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio, for example, said about Wynn and Michel shortly after the two Bulldogs were selected in the first-round one week ago.

Together with their SEC brethren, Wynn and Michel join a long list of former Southeastern players to come to the Patriots through either the draft or free agency. When focusing solely on draft choices, the team has picked 32 players out of the SEC between Bill Belichick becoming New England's head coach in 2000 and last year's draft – and some noteworthy names joined the club from the SEC.

Five of the Patriots' former first-round selections came out of the conference: Defensive captains Dont'a Hightower (Alabama) and Jerod Mayo (Tennessee) spent their college days in the SEC, just like defensive tackles Richard Seymour (Georgia) and Dominique Easley (Florida) and tight end Ben Watson (Georgia). Later-round picks like defensive ends Jarvis Green (LSU) and Trey Flowers (Arkansas) also turned into contributors.

And even though not all SEC picks turned out to be hits – just think of Chad Jackson (Florida), Jermaine Cunningham (Florida) or Jake Bequette (Arkansas) –, the Patriots are still not afraid of going back and drafting out of the SEC. “A lot of good people in that conference,” noted Caserio. This year is just the latest example of the Patriots being attracted to the level of competition it offers.