By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- A whole lot of attention is naturally paid to the top picks of the draft. Such is the way of life in the NFL.
But locally, the Patriots have made hay over the years with their picks in the middle rounds.
To wit, here are some players selected in rounds three through six that have helped the Patriots win a Super Bowl or two since Bill Belichick took over in 2000 (ordered subjectively, loosely based on championship contributions, plus some players who have been added after the most recent Super Bowl win):
Tom Brady, Sixth Round, 2000
Joe Thuney, Third Round, 2016
James White, Fourth Round, 2014
Trey Flowers, Fourth Round, 2015
Asante Samuel, Fourth Round, 2003
Stephen Gostkowski, Fourth Round, 2006
Shaq Mason, Fourth Round, 2015
Dan Koppen, Fifth Round, 2003
Duron Harmon, Third Round, 2013
Marcus Cannon, Fifth Round, 2011
Aaron Hernandez, Fourth Round, 2010
Ellis Hobbs, Third Round, 2005
Matthew Slater, Fifth Round, 2008
Jarvis Green, Fourth Round, 2002
James Sanders, Fourth Round, 2005
Stevan Ridley, Third Round, 2011
Bryan Stork, Fourth Round, 2014
Jacoby Brissett, Third Round, 2016
Malcolm Mitchell, Fourth Round, 2016
Damien Harris, Third Round, 2019
Ted Karras, Fourth Round, 2016
Nick Kaczur, Third Round, 2005
Rhamondre Stevenson, Fourth Round, 2021
Michael Onwenu, Sixth Round, 2020
Obviously, there were many mid-round picks that didn't pan out. But clearly, finding value in the middle of the draft helped the Patriots sustain their success for so long.
With that in mind, it's worth paying some added attention to the mid-round picks from this year's draft -- specifically third-round pick Marcus Jones and fourth-round pick Pierre Strong Jr.
With Jones, he could help immediately in the defensive backfield, as he's coming off a five-interception, 13 pass-defense season at Houston. But the biggest reason for optimism on Jones is in the return game.
As a kick returner, Jones took six kickoffs back for touchdowns in his college career. He also returned three punts for scores.
Given the game situation, his last one may have been his best one:
Jones also showed spurts of being an effective player on offense, catching 10 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown last year. Granted, it's a little bit easier to get open against Rice and Navy than it is against the Bills and Ravens, but the dynamic skill-set is certainly something that Belichick and Co. will try to utilize as much as possible. (Considering punt returner Gunner Olszewski departed via free agency, Jones figures to get a chance to compete for that job from day one.)
Jones' full highlight tape, featuring dynamic plays in all three phases, is quite the spectacle.
While the outlook on Jones seems positive, it might be even better for Pierre Strong, the running back out of FCS-level South Dakota State.
Strong ran for 1,686 yards and 18 touchdowns on 240 carries last season, good for a 7-yard average per carry and a 112.4-yard average per game. He ran for 185 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries against UC Davis, 163 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries against Youngstown State, 162 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries against Southern Illinois, and 150 yards on 20 carries against Indiana State.
FCS stats, though, don't necessarily tell the tale of a player. And whether he can make the huge jump from the Missouri Valley Football Conference to the AFC East will depend on the work that Strong puts in and the coaching he gets in New England. He'll also have to work to develop as a pass catcher, after he had just 42 receptions for 328 yards and one touchdown in 24 collegiate games.
Strong's college highlight reel shows good fluidity and speed, paired with great vision that helped him turn good runs into great runs. He even chucked a couple of touchdown passes for good measure, two of the five he threw in college.
Of course, nobody in the world knows how any draft prospects will pan out. But for the time being, these two playmakers stand out as having some major potential for the Patriots in the short and long term.
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