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Dec 6, 2021; Orchard Park, New York, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick gestures to quarterback Mac Jones (not pictured) against the Buffalo Bills during the second half at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The college scouting process has implications beyond the draft for NFL teams. Front office decision makers can get close up looks at every player set to enter the league that year. Teams aren’t able to draft every player they want, but they may identify players they can bring in if those players become available down the road.

That may be the case for the Patriots this week. During the 2017 draft process, Bill Belichick was reportedly high on Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham. Belichick got himself a front row seat at Cunningham’s Pro Day, working closely with him through individual drills.

Belichick was without a first round pick in that year’s draft, having traded it to the New Orleans Saints for Brandin Cooks. Cunningham was then drafted in the second round, 57th overall by the Houston Texans. That was 15 picks ahead of the Patriots’ first scheduled pick, which they ended up trading out of.

It turned out, Belichick’s instincts were right. Cunningham became an instant impact player for Houston, and led the NFL with 164 tackles in 2020 after signing a four-year, $58 million contract extension in August.

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Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.