Belichick drives through Welker’s journey

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Need some help on who the guy pictured above is? That would be the last Texas Tech player the Patriots drafted.

Believe it or not, the name of Kliff Kingsbury, who threw for more than 12,000 yards as Mike Leach’s original triggerman at Tech, came up today in Bill Belichick’s press conference. The coach mentioned the now out-of-football quarterback to illustrate just how a guy like Welker can slip through the cracks, the way he did.

Wasn’t like the Patriots didn’t know who Welker was. But they, like 31 other teams, didn’t deem him worthy of a draft pick back in 2004.

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“We got the wrong guy,” Belichick said. “Did a bad job on that. He was definitely on our radar. But you look at him, he doesn’t have great timed speed, he doesn’t have great size. He’s quick, he catches the ball, they ran a lot of tear screens, stuff like that down there at Tech.

“It wasn’t like you saw him running a lot of perimeter routes. Doing what he’s doing here, with what he was doing there, it’s sort of hard to project that.”

He’s not alone, among slot receivers. Hines Ward was a third-round pick, after playing a multitude of positions — including quarterback — Georgia. T.J. Houshmandzadeh was a seventh-round pick. Brandon Stokley was a fourth-round pick.

Why? Because raw speed and strength aren’t paramount at these positions, and intelligence and ability to adjust in tight spaces plays a role too, where it might not as much at the college level.

“Like it was with Troy Brown, it’s not like he was a No. 1 draft choice,” Belichick said. “Sometimes those guys, you lose sight of the slot receivers, how good they are, they kind of impact they can have. And there’s a lot of slot receivers that have been drafted in the second, third rounds of the draft that I can tell you aren’t playing football, that didn’t have 20 catches in their career, it’s not the easiest position to evaluate.”

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Welker latched on in San Diego, got cut there in a roster numbers crunch in Sept. 2004, went to Miami, and took off from there.
And started killing the Patriots. There was a 71-yard punt return in the monster upset the Dolphins landed in 2004. There was a nine-catch, 77-yard effort in 2006. Heck, he even subbed as a kicker against New England.
“He killed us,” Belichick said. “He killed us on punt returns. And he killed us in the slot. … I remember we had one “Double 83” when he was playing in the slot in Miami, and we still couldn’t cover him.”
So came another added bit of motivation to pursue Welker in the 2007 offseason.
“It’s one thing to acquire a player, it’s another thing to acquire a player that you then don’t have to play against twice a year,” the coach added. “If you get the right guy, you’re adding him to your team but also taking off a team you have to play twice a year. There’s definitely something to be said for that.”
And something to be said for the player Welker’s become.