FOXBORO -- Not long after Cre'Von LeBlanc made a hard-to-fathom, one-handed interception in New England's preseason opener against the Saints, Patriots coach Bill Belichick labeled the play "special." Then he delved a little more deeply into LeBlanc's practice performances with the team to that point.
"Day in and day out, he's been pretty consistent for us going all the way back to the spring," Belichick said at the time. "I'd say his instinctiveness, his ability to be around the ball, his anticipation and ability to recognize routes maybe offset some of the testing numbers that aren't elite . . . 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."
LeBlanc has seen more preseason targets (20) than any other corner in the NFL thus far, according to Pro Football Focus, and he's allowed nine receptions for 95 yards. His percentage of targets caught (45 percent) is the third-best of any corner with at least 15 targets, and he's allowed a quarterback rating of 38.5 when targeted.
The undrafted rookie out of Florida Atlantic has one pass breakup to go along with his eye-popping pick, and his ability to make plays on the football -- something he flashed in one-on-one drills throughout training camp -- is something that may allow him to earn a spot on the team's 53-man roster.
When asked to explain the value of a player who seems to have a knack for finding the football, Belichick said it can be a difficult skill to assess. It may seem, at times, like a player is fortunate to make those kinds of plays at first. But if they happen again, and again, you might just have something.
"It's a valuable skill," Belichick said. "Logan Ryan is another guy that did it in college. He has done it here. Some guys have a real knack for that, other guys not as much. Sometimes it's a little bit acquired, sometimes it's just instinctive.
"The best example I ever had was [former Giants corner] Everson Walls. He didn't technically do hardly anything right from a fundamental standpoint. You would never take another player and say, 'Look, do it the way Everson's doing it. This is the way you would want to do it.' But in the end [he had], I don't know, whatever it was, 56 career interceptions. It was a lot. It was over 50. He did things, but he could find the ball and he had a great instinct for quarterbacks, routes, pattern combinations and so forth. Certainly it wasn't a speed and measurable thing. You would have released him on those measurable. That's whyhe wasn't drafted. But as a football player he's productive.
"When I was in Detroit, Lem Barney . . . same kind of thing. Lem probably had better measurable skills coming out, but at that point he made a lot of plays and he made them on his instinctiveness, ball skills, awareness, etc.
"Ty [Law], I mean Ty was a first-round pick, but Ty had that too. There are a lot of first-round picks that don't have that and he had that.
"It's definitely an important skill, and it really probably separates good from great players or average to good players. It's not the easiest thing to evaluate, and sometimes some of those plays are circumstantial more than they are great instinctive plays. They're fortunate the way they happen. But when a guy starts making enough of them then you know it's something a little special."
Time will tell as to whether or not the Patriots believe LeBlanc has that something special. Final roster cuts are due on Sept. 3. He's been included in our latest 53-man roster projection, but he's competing in what appears to be a deep positional group that includes second-year players Justin Coleman and Darryl Roberts as well as fellow undrafted rookie Jonathan Jones.