FOXBORO -- Derek Rivers dominated the FBS competition he went up against at Youngstown State, but Bill Belichick didn't seem overly concerned about the jump in competition the 6-foot-4, 248-pounder will face at the NFL level.
Taken with the No. 83 overall selection in the third round of the NFL Draft on Friday night, Rivers was a first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection each of the past three years. He recorded 14 sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss last season for the Penguins.
After making two third-round selections on Friday -- the Patriots also took Troy offensive tackle Antonio Garcia -- Belichick told reporters that Rivers had success at this year's Senior Bowl, where he recorded one sack, one quarterback hit and one hurry in 14 pass-rush snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.
PFF, which had exclusive access to Senior Bowl practice film, did not consider Rivers to be a standout performer during the week of one-on-ones at practices. His strong showing in the game, however, may have given him a bump in the eyes of league evaluators.
"[He] played competitively in the all-star games and in a good program there with Coach [Bo] Pelini, who we know very well," Belichick said of Rivers. "Bo does a great job with his players and his team. Derek’s been in a good system, has been well-coached. Even though he’s from a smaller school we’ll see what he can do for himself here, as well, when all is said and done."
Belichick added: "I mean he’s been in a good program. Coach Pelini has been an NFL coach, been a Division 1 head coach. They were in a championship game there at Youngstown. He does a great job. Visiting with Derek last week, or two weeks ago – whenever it was when he was in here – he’s obviously been in a good program. He’s been well-coached, and sure, it’s a big adjustment for him or anybody else moving to the National Football League. I think he’s been in a solid program. We’ll see how it goes."
Pelini was the head coach at Nebraska from 2008-14 and overlapped there with a handful of current and former Patriots, including Vincent Valentine, Rex Burkhead and Alfonzo Dennard.
The athleticism Rivers showed at this year's combine should also help him make the transition from FCS to the NFL. He was among the top defensive linemen in this year's class when it came to his results in the 40-yard dash (4.61 seconds), bench press (30 reps), vertical (35 inches) and three-cone (6.94 seconds).