Looking beyond the first round

We'll focus much of our attention on the first round of the upcoming draft, as the players projected to go in that round are those that many consider the surest best to become high-quality NFL players. The Patriots have a strong track record of identifying talent in the first round under Bill Belichick, including franchise cornerstones Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, Devin McCourty and Nate Solder, among others.

But it's important to remember that NFL scouts and coaches will spend much of the next two months focusing on a talent pool of hundreds of prospects, many of which won't hear their name called at any point during the draft. The Patriots have important players on their roster who entered the league as college free agents, including Wes Welker, Danny Woodhead, Steve Gregory and others.

In fact, looking back at the opening day roster from 2012, it's interesting to note the breakdown of how the Patriots 53-man roster entered the league.

1st-round picks: 7

2nd-round picks: 9

3rd-round picks: 3

4th-round picks: 4

5th-round picks: 5

6th-round picks: 5

7th-round picks: 2

Undrafted free agents: 18

Over a third of the roster entered the league as an undrafted player, and 16 more qualify as what we would now call "third-day prospects" (4th-7th rounders). These are a good reminder that teams can both find talented players in the later rounds of the draft, and also to never underscore the importance of exhaustive scouting that extends to a group of players much larger than the total number of selections in the draft.