NFL rosters are expanded to 90 players during this portion of the offseason, making it far from uncommon to see multiple players from one school trying to make the same team at the professional level. The Patriots have a trio of players from Purdue, Ohio State, Illinois and Florida too, but those totals are largely overlooked because the team currently employs eight -- yes eight -- players from Rutgers.
The connection to Rutgers is apparent for head coach Bill Belichick, as his son Steve (now a Patriots assistant coach) was on the football team there and Belichick has grown close to former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, now the Buccaneers head coach. LSU, Florida and Alabama have previously served as informal "pipelines" to the Patriots, akin to how Rutgers seems to be now.
Here's a snapshot look at each of the former Scarlet Knights now on the roster and how they may fit into the Patriots' 2013 plans.
Defensive back Devin McCourty
A 2010 first-round pick, McCourty has become a team leader and defensive captain in New England. Belichick consistently praises him for his work on the field and his preparation off of it, and McCourty has become a staple in the Patriots secondary. After a terrific rookie season at cornerback, he endured through a difficult second season before bouncing back in 2012. McCourty eventually moved to safety in 2012, where he appears to be entrenched for years to come.
Defensive end Justin Francis
After going undrafted in 2012, Francis used a strong training camp to earn a spot on the Patriots' 53-man roster, starting down the stretch due to Chandler Jones' absence due to injury. Francis finished the regular season on a high note with three sacks in Week 17, and looks to be part of the defensive end rotation again in 2013. He has good pass rushing skills and is a relentless worker.
Cornerback Logan Ryan
A third-round pick in 2013 (one of two from Rutgers), Ryan projects to be among the Patriots' top five cornerbacks as a rookie. With Aqib Talib, Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard in the fold, Ryan might not be counted on to play extensively on defense, but he could contribute as a dime back and on special teams. Talib's contract expires after 2013; if he doesn't re-sign, the Patriots have a young cornerback who could be counted on to play more.
Safety Duron Harmon
One can virtually cut and paste the analysis from Ryan, as Harmon was another third-round pick who may not be counted on to play extensively on defense in 2013. A leader and a physical, downhill run defender at Rutgers, Harmon projects as a developmental strong safety who should absorb plenty of insight from both Adrian Wilson and Steve Gregory.
Linebacker Steve Beauharnais
The last of the Patriots' draft picks out of Rutgers in 2013, Beauharnais strikes as a player who should compete for a job on the 53-man roster via a reserve linebacker and special teams role. He's 240 pounds and draws strong reviews for his character and leadership while at Rutgers. The Patriots have uncovered seventh-round diamonds in the rough in previous drafts.
Offensive tackle Kevin Haslam
Acquired via waivers on Wednesday, Haslam was a part-time starter in San Diego during the 2012 season. Originally an undrafted free agent in 2010, Haslam has good athleticism and enough reactive movement skills to play left tackle, but isn't currently someone a team wants starting 16 games. He'll likely compete for a backup tackle role to stick around.
Cornerback Brandon Jones
Another undrafted player, Jones was signed following this year's draft. He has good size for the position (6-foot-0) and led Rutgers with five interceptions in 2012. As is the case with any rookie free agent, he'll need to impress in defensive drills and on special teams to make the roster. The Patriots have sufficient depth at cornerback, and the practice squad could be a possibility for Jones as well. Without having seen him play much, it's an early projection.
Wide receiver Mark Harrison
It's hard to miss the towering Harrison, whose combination of size and speed make him a fascinating prospect, although he was not drafted this year and is coming off of foot surgery. He's 6-foot-3, weights over 230 pounds and ran a 4.46 at the combine. He'll have a shot to compete for a back-end of the roster spot or a practice squad opening. Given the turnover in the receiving corps, Harrison and the rest of the young wideouts will be watched closely.