- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Patriots' selection of Rutgers safety Duron Harmon in the third round raised eyebrows in some circles because Harmon was a non-combine invitee projected by some to be a later-round pick or free agent.
But it's far from the first time that the Patriots had a different value on a player than what seemed to be the majority opinion.
Some examples from the Belichick era:
Safety Tavon Wilson (2012, second round, 48th overall) -- Wilson wasn't invited to the combine, and while he took several visits with NFL teams in the weeks leading up to the draft, he was considered by many to be more of a mid- to late-round selection. Among other things, the Patriots liked his smarts, versatility, and how he showed up in Illinois' sub packages in different roles. The jury remains out if he'll be worth the value.
Safety Nate Ebner (2012, sixth round, 197th overall) -- A former rugby player who hardly played defense at Ohio State. The Patriots targeted him for a core special-teams role and this looks like a hit (2nd on the team in special teams tackles in 2012).
Defensive end/linebacker Jermaine Cunningham (2010, second round, 53rd overall) -- Most were focusing on Cunningham's Florida teammate, Carlos Dunlap, but Cunningham unexpectedly went one pick before him -- and earlier than most expected. He looks to be closer to the roster bubble at this time.
Offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (2009, second round, 58th overall) -- After not being invited to the combine, and having some teams shy away because of a back injury, Vollmer was considered "overdrafted" by some. When healthy, he's proven to be one of the best right tackles in the NFL.
Center/guard Rich Ohrnberger (2009, fourth round, 123rd overall) -- The personable Ohrnberger was a non-combine invitee out of Penn State who was undersized. The Patriots traded up to select him but he never emerged in New England.
Receiver Matthew Slater (2008, fifth round, 153rd overall) -- Similar to Ebner in 2012, the Patriots targeted Slater, a receiver/returner/defensive back at UCLA, for his special-teams prowess and took many by surprise in doing so as early as the fifth round. Yet this was one of the best "outlier" picks of the Belichick era, as Slater is not only a perennial Pro Bowler, but one of the classiest players and best examples for youngsters to ever don a Patriots uniform.
Offensive lineman Logan Mankins (2005, first round, 32nd overall) -- The Fresno State blocker had been rated lower by most analysts, but the Patriots stuck with their convictions and were proven correct after most of the top defensive players had been picked and they stayed true to their board.
Quarterback Matt Cassel (2005, seventh round, 230rd overall) -- Cassel had never been a full-time starter at Southern Cal, but the Patriots saw his potential and made a late-round investment that paid off.