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One measure of success in NFL draft: Finding hidden gems in middle rounds


Every franchise has an eye toward the future during the NFL draft.

It’s the three days on the calendar when hope springs eternal for every team in Roger Goodell’s playground.

Fortunately for New England sports fans, as long as Bill Belichick is calling the shots in the corner office and on the sidelines, the future will always be now for the Patriots.

Fans throughout the league woke up last Sunday morning believing their team struck it rich and used their sixth-round pick on the next Tom Brady. But this post-draft euphoria will eventually dissipate and they’ll come to the realization there is only one Brady and he broke the NFL draft mold for late-round greatness and Super Bowl rings.

Teams better hit it right on players chosen in the first two rounds. If not, the guys calling the shots in the draft war room will be short-timers.

The New York Giants brass can tell you all they want about Duke quarterback Daniel Jones being worthy of the sixth pick overall. Come two years from now if Jones hasn’t supplanted Eli Manning at the top of the depth chart, no one involved in his selection will still be employed by the Giants.

While more home runs than not are typically hit with first-round picks, Super Bowl teams are built by not swinging and missing in rounds three through seven of the draft. Beside Brady (6th round, pick 199 in 2000), Julian Edelman (7th round, pick 232 in 2009) and James White (4th round, pick 130 in 2014) are among the other hidden gems the Patriots have grabbed in the later rounds.

The sand in the NFL hour glass for many rookies begins running out the day training camp opens in July. Depending on the numbers on your pay stub, a first-year player only gets so many opportunities to make a strong first impression.

As usual, the Patriots draft haul includes some lesser-known players who were second- and third-day selections that could emerge as impact performers this fall.

Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich (3rd round, pick 77), who looks like Thor in shoulder pads, and Arkansas guard/center Hjalte Froholdt (4th round, pick 118), a native of Svenborg, Denmark who played his high school ball at IMG Academy in Florida, each fit the bill as the jack-of-all-trade players that make the Patriots organization great.

Belichick must like O-linemen from Europe since he picked Sebastian Vollmer from Germany in the second round in 2009.

Winovich, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 255 pounds, played quarterback and linebacker in high school. He was reportedly tried at tight end, fullback and running back before settling in at defensive end.

During his four-year Wolverine career, Winovich made 185 tackles (72 solo) and 44.5 tackles for loss, including 18 sacks in 45 games. That’s just the type of athleticism and production off the edge the Patriots need while trying to replace the loss of defensive lineman Trey Flowers.

Froholdt, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 315 pounds, started his college career as a defensive tackle. He played left guard as a sophomore and junior. This past season Froholdt split time at guard and center.

Over the past two seasons, Froholdt did not allow a sack despite being matched up against many of the top defensive players in the SEC, including Alabama’s standout interior defensive lineman Quinnen Williams, selected third overall by the New York Jets. Froholdt’s size and versatility should prove invaluable on the Patriots’ offensive line.

Winovich and Froholdt weren’t glamour picks. But they are the type of players who could step right in and impact the immediate future of pro football’s resident dynasty.

Follow Carmine Frongillo on Twitter @cwfrongi

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