The Patriots reputation for holding onto undrafted rookies is well-known, and it wouldn't be a stretch to see a handful of the large crop that is currently beginning NFL life to stick around this year – even with New England's roster stocked with established talent at virtually every position.
The team made several of them available to the media on Tuesday, and here's an early prediction: cornerback D.J. Killings will be in the running to earn one of those valuable roster spots.
Killings, whose full name is Dorian Jamaal, is a 21-year-old cornerback out of Central Florida with the kind of versatility and football intelligence that will no doubt endear him to Bill Belichick and the rest of the Patriots coaching staff. Killings has so much of the latter that Shaquill Griffin, his teammate at UCF, called him a genius.
"A little overboard," Killings said with a laugh. "But that was me at UCF. I was the one who had to make sure everything was straight. I was setting calls on defense. Sometimes Shaquill would look at me from the other side of the field and he'd look at me like, 'what are we doing?' and I'd just give him some hand signals or something. I knew I was capable of doing it. All it takes is some extra work."
While Griffin was a third-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks, Killings wound up going undrafted. But his work in the Knights secondary was enough to earn him $31,000 in guaranteed money, and once he began the nerve-wracking process of signing with a team after the draft, his pick was an easy one.
"All of [the teams] were basically saying the same thing, telling me the chance I would have," he said. "I just had to sit down and make a decision, talking about the situation and we knew this would be a good decision.
"I was aware [of their reputation] and then when I came Coach Belichick told me it doesn't matter what you do before you got here or how you got here it's what you do when you get here. They develop great players. There have been a lot of great players that got here in this program and culture and exploded into these awesome players and I wanted to be a part of that."
In addition to the Patriots long history of success with undrafted rookies – a list that includes corners Malcolm Butler, Jonathan Jones and Randall Gay – Killings said he was struck by the tenor of organization as a whole. Upon arrival, he knew immediately he'd made the right call.
"The coaching," he explained. "They expressed the importance of even knowing the names of the lunch ladies, not only your coaches or other staff members, but everyone. Know their names, where there from, where they went to school and I think that sets the foundation for any team. When you're building something you to have that foundation. They stress it as well."
Killings saw that firsthand before he ever dreamed of walking onto the practice fields in Foxborough. During a private workout with the Patriots, he and Griffin noticed some differences between the drills he did for other teams and the one director of player personnel Nick Caserio put them through.
"It went good. He did a lot of things that other teams didn't do and I see now why. It wasn't regular W drill or T plant," Killings said.
"He was putting us in positions on the field where it was like game situations. I'm running with my back turned and he's telling me to break and then I break. He's putting me in the slot position and doing a whip route. After that workout we were like, that's football right there."
Killings also took note of the fact that Asante Samuel, a fellow UCF alum, carved out a Pro Bowl career as a corner in New England. He met Samuel a couple of times through Travis Fisher, a former NFL corner and current UCF cornerbacks coach.
"He came a couple times because Coach Fisher brought Asante in," Killings said. Coach Fisher does a great job of bringing guys to show us that we can do something from this program and what UCF can do. Zant was great and he's been a great example for us."
Time will tell if Killings has the ability to become one of the next undrafted rookies to stick in New England, but he certainly seems to check off a lot boxes necessary to succeed with the Patriots.
Several Patriots rookies met with the media on the field at Gillette Stadium on Tuesday, May 23, 2017.