INDIANAPOLIS -- Victor Cruz arrived in town not with a chip on his shoulder, but with a camera ready to capture every moment.
"I'd rather be here for the Super Bowl now than the combine," Cruz said Monday with a smile.
He expressed neither disappointment nor frustration about being overlooked by scouts and NFL teams in college. Admittedly, he wasn't the biggest guy at 6 feet, 204 pounds, and he didn't have "off-the-wall" statistics at UMass. He always knew he'd have to fight for his time to shine.
But Cruz isn't the only "hidden gem" to get lost in the shuffle of pro evaluations. His Patriots counterpart, Wes Welker, went undrafted in 2004 and was released by the Chargers after the first game. After almost three full seasons in Miami, he was traded in 2007 to New England, where he has established himself as one of the premier receivers in the game.
"He's a guy that I've looked at growing up," said Cruz, who ended the regular season with 33 fewer receiving yards (1,536) and as many touchdowns (nine) as Welker. "You always watch the best in the league, and he's definitely one of the best at his craft and at his position. He's definitely a guy I take a few things from, and you add it to your game."
The Patriots' secondary, often criticized this season for its inconsistency (albeit partly because of injuries), has spent many hours game-planning for Cruz -- a player who "can do it all," safety Patrick Chung said.
"He's quick, he's good off the line, he's good into his routes, he can catch the ball, he's physical, he can break tackles -- he's like the complete receiver," Chung said.
And to think few NFL scouts thought Cruz was even worth their time. He said 15 to 20 scouts came to his pro days at UMass and Boston College, but that was only because of offensive lineman Vladimir Ducasse, a standout at UMass.
"I almost call him every month just to thank him for having such a great career at UMass," Cruz said of Ducasse, a backup with the Jets.
But when asked if his and Welker's journeys are proof of the limitations of the NFL's draft system, Cruz said, "There are so many guys out there. So many guys that you essentially take a chance on. And some guys just slip under the radar. And once those hidden gems get figured out and somebody sees them and they get their opportunity, if they make the best out of it, then it's a great opportunity."