By Danny Cox
Many people believe that teams need to go out and sign the most established veterans and draft only the absolutely top-rated players out of college. In order to do that, a lot of money is needed, and besides—those kinds of actions don’t always produce the results that everyone believes they will. That’s why the New England Patriots look for talent in the dark; they also find players that other teams have given up on, and they put their faith in them.
Obviously, this strategy is working. The Patriots are back in the Super Bowl again this season and they are a great example of how to build a championship team with pieces that, at first glance, don’t seem to fit.
WR Chris Hogan
Undrafted, Chris Hogan signed with the San Francisco 49ers but never played in a single game. The New York Giants placed him on their practice squad, but he stayed there less than two weeks. He then spent three seasons with the Buffalo Bills and had some decent numbers, but he was never really seen as a go-to receiver. Even without much to show for it, the Patriots signed Hogan to a 3-year deal worth $12 million after head coach Bill Belichick saw potential in the young receiver.
Obviously, he saw something that a lot of other coaches didn’t, as Hogan had the best regular season of his career and most recently, his best game as well. Hogan is one of the main reasons the Pats won the AFC Championship game as he exploded for 180 yards on nine receptions.
WR Malcolm Mitchell
Selected in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Malcolm Mitchell went into Patriots training camp and had to compete against the likes of Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan. Interestingly enough, he was able to beat out Amendola for the third starting wide receiver spot and prove to the team that he deserved it.
Yes, Mitchell does have a bit of learning to do for the speed and strength of the NFL game, but as the season progressed, he showed more and more promise. His rookie regular season came to a close with 401 yards and four touchdowns on 32 receptions. Anyone who has watched him play, though, knows that Belichick has another star on his hands. It also doesn’t hurt to have Tom Brady throwing to him.
RB LeGarrette Blount
Throughout college and his first five years in the NFL, LeGarrette Blount was rather troubled and dealt with a number of off-field problems. He had one stint with the Patriots in 2013 before signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers in a two-year relationship that never really worked. New England brought him back and 2016 turned into his best year ever, with 1,161 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground. He has managed to stay in the spotlight for all the right reasons.
DL Jabaal Sheard
After four seasons with the Cleveland Browns, a talent like Jabaal Sheard deserved to have more success, and he found it with the New England Patriots. He has truly flourished since signing with the Pats in 2015, and he has become a vocal leader on defense. In two regular seasons, Sheard had 13 sacks and four passes defended, which proves that he not only knows how to pass rush, but he can also drop back into coverage when needed as well.
TE Martellus Bennett
Even though the Patriots have one of the best tight ends in the league in Rob Gronkowski, they still traded for Martellus Bennett back in March. They got him for an absolute steal from the Chicago Bears and he ended up racking up almost career numbers for the Patriots in 2016. When Gronk went down due to injury in December, Bennett became the No. 1 tight end for the team. All the Patriots had to do was use a fourth-round pick to get a great offensive player.