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A solid second day for Pats

If Day 1 of the NFL Draft is about must hits, day two is about hope and so-called steals. It's when it's easier to defend the value of picks and when lower expectations eliminate the term "reach" from the draft vernacular. While a team's draft weekend work is judged predominantly by how its highest picks perform on Sundays in the coming fall, a few second day gems can put a draft over the top or even save it from a first round miss.

Since Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli took over player procurement in New England, there have been some second day hits that have not only contributed, but also started and even been key figures during the team's championship era.

The most obvious of the second day stars is quarterback Tom Brady, the 199th pick back in 2000 who has since been to a pair of Pro Bowls and guided New England to three Super Bowl titles. He was the MVP in two of those.

In 2002, productive defensive lineman Jarvis Green was plucked in the fourth round while wideout David Givens was the Pats seventh round pick. Both have made sizable impact on two championship teams and Givens led the club in receiving last year and has been a clutch, productive postseason performer as well.

The following season, New England snared cornerback Asante Samuel in the fourth, center Dan Koppen in the fifth and linebacker Tully Banta-Cain in the seventh. Samuel started at corner last season after a rookie season spent as a nickel back. Koppen is a two-year starter at center while Banta-Cain is a solid special teamer on the verge of cracking the lineup at outside linebacker. That list doesn't include Dan Klecko, a fourth rounder with some potential that has yet to find a home.

Overall, there are 13 second-day draft picks taken since 2000 that remain on the Patriots roster. Sunday, the club added four more hopefuls, two of which may end up being more than your average second day shot in the dark pick.

In the fourth round, New England selected James Sanders, a strong safety out of Fresno State who will play in the kicking game for a year or two while he is groomed to step in for veteran Rodney Harrison, who will turn 33 in December. Harrison needed an apprentice and Sanders might just be it even after the Pats drafted a pair of safeties in 2004 in Guss Scott and Dexter Reid.

Like New England's first round pick, tackle Logan Mankins, Sanders played college football for former Belichick assistant Pat Hill at Fresno. So based on the trusted source of information, the Patriots were comfortable with the knowledge they had on Sanders, who might just be the team's best value pick in this draft.

Sanders is a consistent player who is a hard hitter, tackles well in the open field and is reliable. With time to learn behind Harrison while he plays special teams, and with some NFL coaching, he could very well develop into a starter two or three years down the road when the Patriots will need a replacement for their veteran leader in the secondary. Sanders needs work playing in traffic near the line of scrimmage and needs to play with more discipline rather than attack and over play the ball, but those are things that can be taught. Instincts, toughness and consistency are much harder to coach and appear to be Sanders' strengths.

"He is a tough, hard-hitting kid," Belichick said. "He did a good job at Fresno State as a [run] support safety. He's been a good, solid football player for them."

He figures to be the same in Foxborough even as his early opportunities are limited.

In the fifth round, the Patriots tabbed a player that might just end up being the surprise pick of their 2005 draft weekend work in linebacker Ryan Claridge, the brother of NFL offensive lineman Travis Claridge.

The former UNLV linebacker has experience inside and outside and in a 3-4 and 4-3 front. He projects as an inside linebacker in New England's 34, but has some pass rush and coverage ability that could make him a four-down player once he improves his strength and technique, which he will likely need to do to compete physically in the NFL.

"He has a little more flexibility," Belichick said. "He blitzed a lot in college and played in coverage."

Claridge is a student of the game who hopes to be a coach when his playing days are over and he played under former USC coach John Robinson in college. Belichick went so far as to mention the names Willie McGinest, a former USC star, and Lawrence Taylor in describing Claridge's style even though he was certain to point out that he wasn't comparing his fifth round pick to those two star-quality players, one of which is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Inside linebacker was a need for New England regardless of Tedy Bruschi's status because both Bruschi and Ted Johnson are north of 30 years old and newcomer Monty Beisel has limited starting experience including none in a 3-4 front.

"He is a versatile player who makes a lot of plays. No matter where he is he finds the ball," Belichick said. "He's an instinctive player."

So while Claridge won't be expected to jump in and make an immediate impact beyond a role in the kicking game, he could emerge as a starter a year or two down the road when players like Johnson and perhaps Bruschi have moved on, which would make his selection in the fifth round another second day hit for the Pats.

The Patriots also created some Day 2 value on the trade front by dealing 2005 picks to add three middle round picks in 2006 when the draft figures to be stronger than this year's weak class. After making three Day 2 trades, New England took quarterback Matt Cassel and tight end Andrew Stokes with their two seventh round picks.

Both are unknown long shots, but that's what you get in the seventh round. That's what Givens was back in 2002 and Patrick Pass in 2000. Heck, that's what Brady was back in 2000 as well.

Cassel is an intriguing athlete who backed up a pair of Heisman Trophy winners at USC in Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. He reportedly had a good workout for scouts and throws with decent accuracy and velocity. He may have the athletic skills to do some others things like perhaps even catch passes, which might be where is real value lies, although Belichick stopped short of projecting Cassel at a position other than quarterback where he is sure to get an initial look.

The Pats didn't have much film to go on with Cassel, but took a shot late in the draft on an athlete who if he develops, could be a seventh round steal and if not will be quickly forgotten. It was a low-risk move.

Finally, New England made Stokes the final pick of the draft and the 2005 Mr. Irrelevant. He is a tight end out of William Penn with good quickness and hands, but he lacks the frame to play on the line in the Patriots multiple tight end offensive system. He is a player that, if he impresses as a receiver during spring and summer camps, could end up on the practice squad while he tries to add strength and overall bulk to his frame in an effort to make him a more well rounded tight end. If he has an NFL future, it could be as a possession receiver since one report called him a poor man's Drew Bennett.

So the Pats looked to have another strong second day, and in terms of value, it might even have been better than Day 1. In Sanders and Claridge, the Pats landed their type of players – guys who are dedicated, consistent, tough and committed to football. They obviously have flaws that kept their names from being called on Day 1, but so did Brady, Givens, Koppen, Samuel and Green.

"To be able to get a couple of defensive players that we feel can help us on defense and in the kicking game on Day 2 is always good," Belichick said.

The Patriots probably know that as well as anyone given their Day 2 success of late. While Day 1 offered some intrigue, Day 2 and the lower expectations made the Sanders and Claridge picks ones to watch closely.

It will certainly be interesting to form a first impression of both this week when rookies report for their first NFL mini-camp.

For Day 2, it seems like a job well done for the Pats.

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