By Kevin Saleeba
Feb 4, 2012
Unheralded is a good term to describe the 2011 AFC Champion New England Patriots.
The Patriots were not built with a majority of highly touted first round picks or high priced free agents. In fact, more than half the roster, 28 to be exact, are undrafted free agents or cast-offs from other teams and the majority of these players helped the Patriots get to the Super Bowl.
"Guys like that who weren't drafted or were signed off the street," explained Patriots coach Bill Belichick during one of this week's Super Bowl XLVI press conferences. "Whatever they've gotten, they've earned."
Some of the key contributors include players like linebacker Rob Ninkovich, a former Saints fifth round pick, was signed as a free agent in 2009; running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis in 2008, who was an undrafted free agent; and running back/kickoff returner Danny Woodhead was signed after the Jets cut him out of 2010 training camp.
The Patriots have only five players on the active roster who were first round draft picks and nine second round picks. The rest of the drafted players include two selected in the third round, two in the fourth, four in the fifth, one in the sixth, and three in the seventh round.
"It doesn't matter if you were drafted in the second round, the fifth round, or not drafted at all," said Belichick. "Ten years in the league, one year in the league, we are going to play the best players.
"One thing we tell all of the players at the beginning of the year," he said. "I don't care how you got here; it's what you do when you get here. They did it better than someone else. That's why they got the opportunity. Whoever keeps doing it the best; is going to play more."
How the Patriots Were Built
Offensive lineman Dan Connolly was signed to the practice squad on Sept. 12 as a free agent after being released by the Jaguars. Started 11 out of 13 games on the offensive line in 2011 and saw action at both guard and center.
Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis was signed as an undrafted free agent on May 2. He had 11 rushing touchdowns in 2011.
Receiver Matthew Slater was selected in the fifth round (153rd overall). He was selected to his first career Pro Bowl as a special teamer this season with 17 special teams tackles.
Linebacker Gary Guyton was signed as an undrafted free agent on May 2. He started six of 13 games with 46 tackles this season.
Offensive lineman Ryan Wendell was signed as an undrafted free agent on May 2. He played in 14 games this season, starting two games at center and one game at left guard.
Safety Patrick Chung was selected in the second round (34th overall). Played in eight games due to injury and had 67 tackles and one sack this season. He also had five tackles in the AFC title game.
Linebacker Rob Ninkovich was signed as a free agent after being released by New Orleans. He started all 16 games with 62 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and an interception return for a touchdown in 2011.
Cornerback Kyle Arrington was signed as a free agent to the practice squad on Sept. 9 after being released by Tampa Bay. He was added to the 53-man roster on Nov. 8. He tied for the league lead with seven interceptions this season.
Defensive lineman Ron Brace was selected in the second round (40th overall). He played in seven games with three tackles and a forced fumble this season.
Quarterback Brian Hoyer was signed as an undrafted free agent on April 30. He was active in all 16 games as Brady's backup and saw action in three games with one completion for 22 yards.
Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer was selected in the second round (58th overall). He played in six games, starting five at right tackle in 2011.
Receiver Julian Edelman was selected in the seventh round (232nd overall). He played on offense, defense, and special teams all throughout 2011. He had 14 tackles, five special team tackles, 28 punt returns, 12 kickoff returns, four receptions, and four rushes.
Defensive back Devin McCourty was selected in the first round (27th overall). Played at both corner and safety and had 94 tackles and two interceptions.
Running back Danny Woodhead was signed as a free agent on Sept. 18 after being released by the Jets. He rushed for 351 yards on 77 carries (4.6 avg.) and a touchdown this season.
Safety Sergio Brown was sign by the Patriots as an undrafted free agent on April 29. He played in 15 games and two playoff games this season and made 30 tackles and nine tackles special teams.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski was selected in the second round (42nd overall). Set an NFL tight end record with 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Receiver Deion Branch was acquired in a trade with Seattle for a fourth round pick. He was originally drafted by the Patriots in the second round (65th overall) of the 2002 NFL Draft. He had 51 catches for 702 yards and five touchdowns this season, including a 61-yard touchdown reception in the Divisional round of the playoffs against Denver.
Linebacker Dane Fletcher was signed as an undrafted free agent on April 29. In 10 games, he recorded 37 tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and five special teams tackles this season.
Linebacker Brandon Spikes was selected in the second round (62nd overall). He started eight games with 47 tackles. He also had an interception in the AFC title game.
Linebacker Tracy White was acquired on Sept. 5 from a trade with Philadelphia for future draft considerations. He played in 15 games, including one start, with 14 tackles.
Defensive lineman Kyle Love was signed as an undrafted free agent on April 29. He started 13 of 16 games with four sacks and 55 tackles in 2011.
Tight end Aaron Hernandez was selected in the fourth round (113th overall). He caught 79 passes in 2011 for 910 yards and seven touchdowns.
Punter Zoltan Mesko was selected in the fifth round (150th overall). He became the Patriots all-time leader in punting average (44.8) in 2011.
Defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick was selected in the seventh round (247th overall). Started five of 10 games this season and had 20 tackles and two sacks.
Defensive lineman Gerard Warren was signed as a free agent on April 24 after being released by Oakland. He was originally selected in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. He played in 12 games with 16 tackles and one sack in 2011.
Offensive lineman Nate Solder was selected in the first round (17th overall). He played in all 16 games starting 11 at right tackle and two at tight end.
Linebacker Mark Anderson was signed as a free agent on Aug. 5. He recorded his second career 10 sack season in his first season with the Patriots, including a sack in the AFC title game.
Long snapper Danny Aiken was claimed off waivers from Buffalo on Sept. 4. He played all 16 games this season including both playoff games.
Defensive back Sterling Moore was signed to the practice squad on Oct. 5 after being released by Oakland. He was added to the 53-man roster on Dec. 23. He made two game saving pass defenses in the last drive of the AFC title game. He played in six games in 2011. He also had two interceptions this season.
Running back Shane Vereen was in the second round (56th overall). He played in five games with 15 rushes for 57 yards and one touchdown this season.
Defensive lineman Shaun Ellis was signed as a free agent from the Jets on Aug. 8. Originally a first round pick of the Jets (12th overall), a compensation pick from the Patriots in exchange for signing Bill Belichick as head coach away from the Jets in 2000. He started 10 of 14 games with 18 tackles, one sack, and three quarterback hits this season. He also had a sack in the Divisional round of the playoffs against Denver.
Receiver Chad Ochocinco was acquired on July 29 following a trade with Cincinnati for an undisclosed draft pick. He had 15 catches for 276 yards and a touchdown.
Running back Stevan Ridley was selected in the third round (73rd overall). He rushed the ball 87 times for 441 yards and one touchdown this season.
Safety James Ihedigbo was signed as a free agent on Aug. 19 from the Jets. He started 12 of 16 games with 72 tackles (50 solo) in 2011.
Cornerback Antwaun Molden was claimed off waivers on Sept. 1 after being released Houston. He had 28 tackles and two interceptions in 16 games in 2011.
Quarterback Ryan Mallett was selected in the third round (74th overall). Was active, but did not play for one game this season.
Defensive back Nate Jones was signed as a free agent on Nov. 30 after being released from Dallas. Played in five games with one start and had 19 tackles.
Offensive lineman Marcus Cannon was selected in the fifth round (138th overall). He played in seven games this season on the offensive line and on special teams.
Linebacker Niko Koutouvides signed as a free agent on Aug. 14 from Tampa Bay. He played in eight games, including one start with eight tackles and nine tackles on special teams.
Defensive back Malcolm Williams was selected in the seventh round (219th overall). He played in two games with one special teams tackle.
Center Nick McDonald was signed to the practice squad on Sept. 5 after being released by Green Bay. He was added to the 53-man roster on Dec. 3. He started two of four games at center in 2011.
Fullback Lousaka Polite was signed as a free agent on Dec. 27. Saw action in both playoff games this season.
Offensive lineman Donald Thomas was signed as a free agent on December 14 after being released by Detroit. He played in 10 games, including one start at left tackle.
Receiver Tiquan Underwood was signed as a free agent on Aug. 29 after being released by Jacksonville. He played in five games and caught three passes for 30 yards.
Right guard Brian Waters was signed as a free agent on Sept. 4 after being released by Kansas City. He was selected to his sixth Pro Bowl during his first season in New England. He started all 16 games at right guard this season.
"Obviously, those guys all have talent," Belichick said about his players. "But I would say they work hard. They are dependable. In the end, that is what you want from a football player. You want somebody you can count on. Those guys have proven over time that we can count on them. They are on the team, and they are a productive group."
Kevin Saleeba is a frequent contributor and columnist to Patriots Insider. A former beat writer for local media, Kevin has extensive knowledge of the team and experience covering the Patriots. Share your thoughts on this article at: http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=1532341562.