Pats were high on Smith in '04 draft

FOXBOROUGH, Mass., -- Holding the 21st selection in the 2004 draft, the Patriots watched the board unfold and were thrilled when defensive lineman Vince Wilfork was available.

Another player on their radar is one they'll see Monday night -- defensive end Will Smith, who went 18th overall to the Saints.

"He was certainly a guy we had a lot of interest in," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "He's a big guy who can run, rush the passer, pursue well, strong player at the point of attack, athletic, plays on his feet. He's got a group of skills, plays hard, been productive. I think he's been the player people thought he would be."

Smith's 8.5 sacks lead the Saints this season, and he most likely will be matched up against the Patriots' left tackle, whether it's Sebastian Vollmer, Matt Light or Mark LeVoir.

Thinking back to 2004, when Smith was coming out of Ohio State, Belichick didn't view him as an outside linebacker/defensive end type hybrid for the Patriots.

Belichick compared the situation to Julius Peppers, saying that while he could probably play outside linebacker, a team wouldn't want to drop him into coverage because it would take him away from doing what he does best -- rushing the passer.

Belichick was asked if it would be accurate that Smith was one of the few players he had in mind as a possibility for the Patriots in the first round of that 2004 draft.

"Yeah, sure," he said. "Any team I'm coaching, if you can get a good defensive lineman, you'd consider it. I don't care where it was, what the situation was, how many of them you might think you'd have. You really can't have too many of those guys if they're good."