Slater a reminder of late-round value

Slater a reminder of late-round value
April 22, 2014, 8:45 pm
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FOXBORO -- As the NFL Draft approaches, the great majority of what's written and said really only concerns the top 30 or 40 players who will be selected.

Those players, of course, know they will be chose at some point and begin their professional careers in one of the NFL's 32 cities.

But a great many more are in the dark on draft weekend. They sit. And wait. And hope they'll be selected until they are.

In the spring of 2008, Matthew Slater was one of those. He was a receiver and special teamer at UCLA who was being considered by some as a safety.

For those players currently projected to be drafted in the middle or later rounds of the draft -- which takes place this year from May 8-10 -- Slater knows what they're going through.

"I think about it all the time," Slater said in a conversation with media members on Tuesday. "I was in a position where I didn't know what was gonna happen, didn't know where I was gonna end up, didn't know if I was gonna get drafted. But thinking back on it, it really was a joy to be able to see that childhood dream come to fruition and be able to live that out. I'm still very thankful that this team took a chance on me and gave me an opportunity to live out my childhood dream."

Since being selected in the fifth round of the 2008 draft, Slater has been a mainstay on Patriots special teams units and has held the title of team captain for the past three seasons. He's also contributed as a wide receiver, and he chipped in as a safety in 2011 when he started three games in the defensive backfield.

A smart player who is renowned for both his on-field intelligence and finely-honed football instincts, Slater said he felt as though he landed in the ideal spot when he was drafted by New England.

"I really feel like this is ultimately the perfect fit because [coach Bill] Belichick understands that you have to have solid effort in all three phases to have a good football team," Slater said. "That's something that he values and they value here. Fortunate for me that I've been able to have a little bit of success doing that."

Slater has been named an All-Pro twice and he's been to three Pro Bowls. In terms of a marriage between program and player, they don't get much more compatible than the Patriots and their former late-round pick turned captain.

Slater credited special teams coach Scott O'Brien for helping turn him into one of the game's premier players in the kicking game. Since O'Brien arrived in New England in 2009 he's helped Slater understand "the cerebral part of the game, and really thinking about what you're doing," Slater said. "Having a plan of attack. Understanding how you're being attacked and blocked and understanding what you're tring to do return wise."

In O'Brien, Slater has found a coach who knows how to make the most of his football IQ as well as his athleticism.

"He's really opened my mind to just being more than a fast guy that's running down there and throwing my body around," Slater said. "It's a thinking man's game believe it or not, and he's really helped me in that area. There's also been some things physically that he's challenged me to do better. I'm really thankful for being able to have played for a coach like that."

The Patriots would be thankful if, in the final three rounds next month's draft, they find a player with the ability to have anywhere near the impact Slater has had on the organization since he was picked six years ago.