When a player is the 199th pick in the draft and he has a reputation for being slow, he isn't expected to lead his team to three Super Bowl victories before he turns 28. Expectations come and go, but it's the accomplishments that weave together the tapestry of history.
When the Patriots analyze a potential new acquisition, they do it unlike any other team in the league. They've studied the reports and scrutinized the film, but what they really want to do is open up the player's ribcage and find out what his heart is made of.
A player might've had a tremendous performance at the combine, but will that player strip the ball out of Lee Evans' hands in the AFC championship? No packet of papers and tapes will tell you what Sterling Moore can do. New England's approach to finding new blood is rarely sexy, but it's often effective.
When the Patriots show up to the draft, the question they'll ask of each prospect will be very simple: Does this kid want to watch the Super Bowl on a flatscreen or does this kid want to play in the game?
That question is how the 199th pick in the 2000 draft became the best quarterback of all time.
To this day, Tom Brady continues to be the model of everything the Patriots look for. They seek out guys with a healthy chip on their shoulder and some fire under them. They collect players who have been doubted, questioned and counted-out.
It's an odd approach to building a football team, but it works. Nobody wants to see that tradition continue more than Brady. The 2012 draft will be another opportunity for the Patriots to stay on that path.
Here are six players that Tom Brady would love to see the Patriots draft.
New England's offense took on a larger-than-life persona last season. Problem is, it often drew attention to the depletion of identity on defense. There was a talent gap, but there was also a personality gap.
George Iloka can help bridge that gap.
Iloka is more than just a great athlete; he's an intelligent kid with a very appealing swagger about him. Swagger may not seem like a solid football credential to anyone who relies strictly on Xs and Os, but it's the exact quality that first endeared New England to Tom Brady back in 2001.
Iloka has an incredible work ethic, as evidenced by the intense footwork drills which have turned him into a very complex safety. His movements are fluid and graceful, almost like a boxer.
From a personality standpoint, Iloka's a very cool kid. He brings that intangible virtue wherever he goes. For a cerebral team like the Patriots, a little dose of cool wouldn't hurt.
Tom Brady would appreciate Iloka's persona and all the tangible and intangible elements he'd bring to the team. Iloka would instantly add personality and brutality to a defensive backfield which is in dire need of an identity.
In pursuit of Brady's fourth ring, a little personality could go a long way.
Juron Criner is energetic and wildly entertaining, but he's also disciplined and coach-able. He's intelligent enough to pick up a complex offense and he has the skill and humility to fill Tom Brady's needs. He also has the potential to be the sleeper hit of the 2012 draft.
Criner has a terrific build with quick legs and great hands. His movements are fluid and he has a natural knack for gaining separation. He's an agile playmaker with terrific body control. He's also a team player.
Like Brandon Lloyd, Criner would simply provide Tom Brady with another option. Criner would fit perfectly into a layered offense, where he'd be a weapon in a very stacked and lethal arsenal.
Like Iloka, Criner would bring a graceful and intelligent swagger to the team. That cultural contribution would be a welcome addition to the Patriot Way, where every player on the roster is a spokesman for the team. Whether it's Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty or Tiquan Underwood, each guy represents themselves as a gentleman to the media and adds to the winning temperament of the collective unit.
Criner is a guy that Tom Brady would love having on the field with him. He's also a guy that Brady would be perfectly happy having at the podium and speaking for the team.
Juron Criner is everything that Tom Brady wants in a teammate.
Michael Brockers is the thinking man's monster.
He's a powerful football player who imposes his will and makes great things happen. His size alone makes him a spacing nightmare for opponents, and the combination of his pure strength and his liquid footwork provides him with the versatility to battle and elude blocks.
He's the kind of intelligent competitor that belongs in a Patriots jersey.
Brady would appreciate Brockers' natural instinct for diagnosing plays and creating havoc. He's a versatile player who can play multiple spots, allowing the Patriots to experiment with him as the 2012 season unfolds.
His talent is extremely raw and his potential is through-the-roof. Brockers would have an impact on the first day of training camp. He's the kind of guy that would make Brady nod his head and say to himself, "This is gonna be a great season."
If New England is in a position to get him, they absolutely should.
Versatile enough to play guard or center, Quentin Saulsberry is a dynamic player who provides options and solutions. His quick and ruthless style of football makes him special, but it's his football IQ that truly makes him a prized possession.
Like every other prospect on this list, Saulsberry brings more than just Xs and Os.
His intelligence makes him an engaging guy on a personal level. Tom Brady wants that kind of multi-dimensional athlete on his squad. Being a Patriot isn't a 40-hour-a-week job, it's a 24-7 job. Off-the-field chemistry plays an important role in determining what happens on Sunday.
Saulsberry fits that mold. He has a great understanding of his role, and he's able to analyze plays and schemes on a verbal level that illustrates his work ethic and knowledge of the game.
He's the kind of guy who knows his job and does his job. That's exactly what Bill Belichick looks for in a football player.
More than anything, Saulsberry is a proud man. That comes through in every interview he gives and you can see it on the field. That's Patriots football. New England is an intellectual team where brains and pride are as important as numbers and production. Saulsberry provides it all.
Bruce Irvin is a beast on the field and a gentleman at the podium. When he speaks, everyone listens. He's cut from the same cloth as Vince Wilfork and Andre Carter, which is good company to have when you're competing for a job on the Patriots.
Irvin ran with a rough crowd when he was younger and the results were catastrophic. This guy knows what poverty and desperation is. He's been through dark times, and those experiences shape every word that comes out of his mouth. He effortlessly commands attention.
Irvin's bleak history has made him extremely humble. That quality may not seem like a football credential, but it's certainly a Patriots credential. Guys like Tom Brady and Rodney Harrison have made humbleness a prerequisite for excelling in this system.
Irvin's versatility allowed him to play at safety and on special teams before he found his calling as a wicked pass-rusher. He first step is lightning quick and his hits are brutal.
More importantly, he's a locker room leader. Irvin's voice was the voice we needed against the Giants.
Brady needs Irvin the same way he needs Andre Carter. He needs these warriors around him, providing leadership and soul for a team preparing to march through a long season. The road back to the Super Bowl will be daunting, but a guy like Irvin has the power to keep the unit together through the most trying times.
A long-shot in every way imaginable, Justin Bethel is a gem for any team that's wise enough to spot him.
With a humble and intelligent poise about him, Bethel is the kind of guy you want on your roster. In every interview he gives and in every game he plays, he lets it be known that his small-school background is an asset.
He's a dynamo in the backfield, a proven tackler, he has a natural talent for reading and intercepting the ball and he can block kicks. The kid does it all. He's a chess piece who can be moved around in a variety of positions and schemes. He's got a great head on his shoulders and an outrageous football IQ.
Like Tom Brady, Bethel has an opportunity to become the ultimate underdog story.
How will his story ultimately unfold? Tough to say. But considering the Patriots make it a habit of collecting unwanted souls and turning them into champions, it isn't completely farfetched to think this could work out.
Tom Brady would approve of this kid in a big way.