A de-facto wide receiver with one career catch has done OK for himself.
In fact, without going so far as to quote Ving Rhames in “Pulp Fiction,” Matthew Slater now stands pretty far from OK.
Slater finds himself in his 11th training camp with the New England Patriots. He has been a team captain during eight of them, and has been selected to seven Pro Bowls and four first-team All-Pros over that span.
That would’ve been hard to foresee when the UCLA do-it-all was selected No. 153 overall in the 2008 NFL draft.
Slater had tied for the NCAA lead with three kickoffs returned for touchdowns as a redshirt senior, earning first-team All-Pac-10 and first-team All-American honors all while averaging a program-best 29 yards on 34 runbacks. He recorded 25 tackles that season, appeared on defense in two games the season prior, and touched the ball once on offense the season before that.
Slater never caught a pass as a Bruin.
But over the last decade since Slater has been in the league, only a dozen players from his draft class have caught on to appear in more regular-season games than him.
“You know, I’ve been blessed,” Slater, holding his captains’ press conference to open training camp, said of the ever-whittling list of 2008 draft picks still in the NFL. “Most of the credit goes to the Lord. He’s preserved me. He’s shown me favor here in being with this great organization. You know, [wide receivers coach] Chad O’Shea brings that list out often, maybe this time of year every year, with Julian [Edelman] and I. There are a lot of great players on that list, talented guys. But the NFL is a funny game the way things work out with guys’ careers, injuries, things of that nature.”
A handful of 2008 picks who’ve played in more games had their draft cards filled out in the first round: quarterbacks Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive end Chris Long and offensive tackle Duane Brown.
The only ones drafted later than Slater who’ve played in more games are outside linebacker Erik Walden and defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin, according to Pro Football Reference.
MOST APPEARANCES AMONG 2008 DRAFT PICKS
- Brandon Carr, No. 140 overall: 160
- Matt Ryan, No. 3 overall: 158
- Joe Flacco, No. 18 overall: 154
- Calais Campbell, No. 50 overall: 154
- Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, No. 16 overall: 153
- Josh Sitton, 135 overall: 147
- Matt Forte, No. 44 overall: 146
- Chris Long, No. 2 overall: 146
- Erik Walden, No. 167 overall: 145
- Martellus Bennett, No. 61 overall: 144
- Ahtyba Rubin, No. 190 overall: 143
- Duane Brown, No. 26 overall: 142
- DeSean Jackson, No. 49 overall: 141
- Matthew Slater, No. 153 overall: 141
Walden and Rodgers-Cromartie are currently free agents, while running back Matt Forte and tight end Martellus Bennett announced their retirements this offseason.
Under a two-year, $5.2 million pact that includes a $400,000 option bonus for 2019, Slater is on his own as the last left standing from the Patriots war room’s 2008 draft haul. That haul included eventual defensive rookie of the year Jerod Mayo in the first round, cornerback Terrence Wheatley in the second, linebacker Shawn Crable and quarterback Kevin O’Connell in the third, as well as corner Jonathan Wilhite in the fourth and linebacker Bo Ruud in the sixth.
Aside from Mayo, who played in 103 games during his Patriots career before retiring in February 2016, Wilhite finished next closest in NFL appearances with 74. Wheatley, Crable and O’Connell combined to play in 20 games. Ruud never made his regular-season debut.
That dispersal is expected.
Last season, only 32 others chosen in the 2008 draft spent time on an NFL roster. As things stand for this season, 20 others are.
Time brings contrast.
“I think as a young player, you’re so caught up in trying to do everything you can to stick around and make the team and you don’t really take pause to take time and do that,” said Slater. “Now, granted I’m still caught up in those things, but I’ve tried to take time and step back and maintain perspective and realize that hey, I play a game for a living. I’m not out fighting fires, I’m not out on the battlefield, I’m playing football and we really are blessed.”
No 2008 draft pick has been voted to more Pro Bowls than Slater. Former Patriot Aqib Talib is nearest with five nods, while six others – including a pair of retired tackles in Jake Long and Ryan Clady – have four.
Slater has been named to one annually since 2011.
He’ll begin 2018 as the third-longest-tenured Patriot behind only kicker Stephen Gostkowski and quarterback Tom Brady, and will turn 33 on Sept. 9 when the campaign opens against the Houston Texans.