Bill Belichick is famous for stocking his roster with plenty of no-name players. His team is littered with undrafted rookies, cast-offs, and bargain bin free-agent signings. Often times this causes even the most devoted Patriots fans to say during a game, "Who the Hell is that guy?"
Justin Francis is an undrafted rookie out of Rutgers University. This year, he's your 5th string defensive end!
Francis was a defensive end and defensive tackle at Rutgers and was probably signed by the Patriots because of his strong senior season - in which he had 64 tackles, 13 for a loss and 6 1/2 sacks. He also batted five passes, had an interception and blocked three kicks. Francis played in the East-West Shrine game following that season. He and his Rutgers team also beat Iowa State in the Pinstripe Bowl held in Yankee Stadium that year.
pre-draft scouting report from Pro Football Weekly, Francis had some off-field trouble in his sophomore year in 2008. That year, he was arrested and accused of threatening a student with an airgun and stealing their cell phone. Either way, he was never convicted for any of this because of a lack of evidence.
One of the most interesting things about Francis' time at Rutgers was that he actually became good friends with Bill Belichick's son, Steve. Steve Belichick is still with Francis, as he was appointed a coaching assistant for the Patriots this season.
”I had math class, doing horrible in math. Steve’s next to me on his MacBook,” Francis said earlier today. ”I’m like, You’re coach Belichick’s son, and I suck at math, so don’t judge me. We laughed about it been friends ever since then. So it’s been a good little journey.”
”I do, actually, and it’s kind of weird,” Francis said. ”Like I said, he’s a good friend. I know he’s never gonna direct me in the wrong path. I take that, I’ll keep that. I’ll always respect him. I respect his job. I respect him as a friend as well.”
Francis said Belichick, who also played football at Rutgers, has provided moral support since he arrived in Foxboro this week for rookie camp.
”He hasn’t really sat down and got into anything like that. He’ll give me a wink and keep my spirits up,” Francis said. ”I’ll give him a nod. He’ll keep my spirits up. I’ll keep his spirits up.”
Did Francis see any similarities between father and son?
”Yeah, a lot. Steve’s a nice, steady guy,” Francis said. ”His dad’s the same way. Coach’s the same way. Stern. Steve’s the same way. They both have a great way of dealing with things. They’re very smart. Can’t help but respect that.”
What a great story. Perhaps his son's relationship had a little to do with Belichick signing Francis after he went undrafted. At least in the regard that Belichick knew who he was.
media's final 53 man roster projections, only four of seven projections had him making it. Regardless, he made it and he'll be thrust into a bigger role going forward with Jermaine Cunningham suspended and Chandler Jones suffering an injury.
The Pro Football Weekly scouting report described him as, "Undersized, athletic, relatively inexperienced college defensive tackle capable of competing for a backup DE job in a 4-3 scheme that allows him to slant and stunt and slide inside as a nickel rusher."
How dead on they were, because that's exactly what Justin Francis' role has been thus far his rookie season. He was inactive in the beginning of the year, missing the first five games as a healthy scratch, but he has come on of late with more playing time. That will only increase as this season goes along!