FOXBORO -- Malcolm Butler has changed the way the Patriots are covered.
In a post-Super Bowl XLIX reality, any rookie who shows a knack for getting his hands on the football in training camp -- no matter how unheralded he may be -- deserves a second look.
He may be just another guy in a sea of 90 . . . but, well, you never know.
Our collective heightened sense of curiosity when it comes to these potential underdog stories was piqued last week when cornerback Cre'Von LeBlanc made a head-scratching, one-handed interception in the end zone against the Saints.
How'd he do that? Where'd he come from? And, um, how is his name pronounced? (It's CRAY-vawn.)
The 22-year-old from Florida Atlantic had made his share of plays in training camp practices before the Saints game, particularly in one-on-one drills, but he was a footnote in practice recaps, often lumped in with a group of long-shot reserve defensive backs like fellow rookies Jonathan Jones and V'Angelo Bentley and second-year corner Darryl Roberts.
The interception provided LeBlanc with an opportunity to stand out.
"It kind of found me, and I found it," he said earlier this week. "It was like love at first sight."
The feeling of having to do something out of the ordinary in order to garner attention is not a new one for the 5-foot-11, 190-pounder. His height wasn't enough for teams wanting length on the outside, and his 40-yard dash time -- 4.65 seconds -- was a non-starter.
Like Butler, who couldn't break the 4.6-second mark at his pro day in 2014, LeBlanc never heard his name called on draft day. Thirty-two others at his position were selected before he signed with the Patriots on May 6 as a free agent.
The team met with LeBlanc on FAU's campus during the pre-draft process and they liked what they saw in terms of his character. But LeBlanc's film let them understand his game and it helped them give him a chance despite his sub-standard 40 time, just as they had two years before with another promising defensive back.
"I’d say probably his measurables coming out are the reason he didn’t get drafted," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said this week. "He played at a good level of competition against some good teams, not all top teams, but they played Miami and Florida and a couple of teams like that, teams that were good. The guys on the other side of the ball were fast...It’s not like they were playing opponents that had players that can’t run.
"I think what you saw in film and what you saw in workout numbers, I don’t know that it quite matches up. Sort of like Malcolm. It’s a little bit of the same thing with Malcom. His testing numbers, I’m sure that’s part of the reason why he didn’t get drafted, either."
It's an odd thing, the 40. It's typically performed in spandex, and it requires precise technique in order to shave off valuable tenths and hundredths of seconds that can determine who gets hired and who doesn't.
LeBlanc says he has run in the high 4.4-second range before -- a quick time that would be coveted by scouts -- but he knew he might have trouble submitting that kind of time when it mattered because his technique wasn't immaculate.
"I'm one of those guys, I can't run by myself," he said. "I knew it was going to come down to it eventually. I wasn't born with a lot of speed, but I'm a competitor, and I compete at a high level, and I'm going to challenge the person across from me. No matter who it is, I'm gonna try to match their type of speed and challenge them to the best of my ability."
In practices, LeBlanc has made plays in drills against his Patriots teammates and in joint sessions with the Bears and Saints. For him, his success relies on using good footwork at the line of scrimmage, executing firm jams to disrupt the quarterback's timing and understanding receiver routes on the fly.
"He’s been really competitive," Belichick said. "I think he’s played well. Obviously, the play he had against the Saints was a pretty special play, but day in and day out he’s been pretty consistent for us going all the way back to the spring.
"I’d say his instinctiveness, his ability to be around the ball, [and] his anticipation and ability to recognize routes maybe offset some of the testing numbers that aren’t elite. They’re good, but I wouldn’t say they’re elite. But all of it kind of together, and knowing how to play, he has got some of that. He finds the ball or the ball finds him, however you want to look at it."
It's a skill that's hard to come by and one that's almost impossible to test for. Now just because LeBlanc has "some of that," as Belichick put it, doesn't mean he's destined to become the next great Patriots corner. It doesn't even mean he's guaranteed to make the roster.
But, well, you never know.