NFL Draft 2011: New England Patriots – Rounds 2 & 3

By Andy Lindberg 

The New England Patriots selected four new players to join their successful franchise and here is some more information about each player. 

Round 2: Pick 33

Name: Ras-I Dowling

Position: Cornerback

Height: 6’1”

Weight: 198lbs

Overview: This isn’t a bad pick for the Patriots. Clearly New England did not think great pass rush value was available in the second round and figured if they were not going to put a ton of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, shoring up the secondary would help.  Dowling had a tough time his senior year with injuries, but the Patriots have never shown hesitation to draft a banged up player to let him recover.  Dowling had 8 career picks for the University of Virginia and it is possible he can make an immediate impact as a number 3 or 4 corner behind Leigh Bodden and Devin McCourty.  Players like Dowling usually have to prove themselves on special teams, but Bill Belichick must think highly of Dowling to select him 33rd overall in the draft.

————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Round 2: Pick 56

Name: Shane Vereen

Position: Running Back

Height: 5’8”

Weight: 204lbs

Overview: I like the selection of Vereen. Even though BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a fantastic year for New England, the Patriots need some depth at the running back position. Much like last year’s draft when New England selected two tight ends in the second round, this year the Patriots took two running backs. Vereen was the first and had a very good year for Cal as a junior rushing for 1,167 yards and 13 touchdowns and caught 22 passes for 209 yards and three scores.  He’s got a low center of gravity and should be able to help New England when needed.  I don’t anticipate a ton of playing time unless the Patriots decide upon platooning their running backs, but Vereen will be a very capable option behind the “Law Firm” and Danny Woodhead.

————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Round 3: Pick 73

Name: Steven Ridley

Position: Running Back

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 225lbs

Overview: I watch a ton of SEC football being an Alabama Crimson Tide fan and Ridley is a bruiser. He looks for contact and can wear out a defense. In the toughest conference in college football Ridley ran for 1,147 yards and 15 touchdowns, including a 159-yard game at Vanderbilt and 123 yards against Tennessee. In the Cotton Bowl against Texan A&M he torched the Aggies for 105 yards on the ground and a score. I believe (partially biased) that Ridley is a better runner than Vereen, but it will be an interesting battle between the two in the pre-season (if there is one) for who comes out higher on the depth chart.

————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Round 3: Pick 74

Name: Ryan Mallett

Position: Quarterback

Height: 6’6”

Weight: 253lbs

Overview: I will fully admit (again, I’m an SEC fan) I was completely stoked when New England selected Mallett. Not only do I believe Mallett is a steal, but also a first round, NFL ready talent.

Who better to put behind Tom Brady to learn?  No offense to those who wanted Jake Locker or possibly Blaine Gabbert, but Locker and Gabbert couldn’t hold Mallett’s jock strap in college. Again, Mallett played in (and torched) the toughest defensive conference in college football.  In 2010 he threw for 3,869 yards with 32 touchdowns and 12 picks.

Mallett ended his career with 69 touchdown passes and threw for 30+ touchdowns two years in a row in the SEC. However, what stands out the most (aside from his laser, rocket arm) is his size. Ben Roethlisberger is 6’5” and 241 pounds, making Mallett one inch taller and 12 pounds heavier. He has good awareness and with a lockout possible, the Patriots are preparing for the future of their offense without Tom Brady about a year sooner than anticipated.

Mallett was drafted to eventually take over as the starter after Brady leaves. Mallett will be under phenomenal tutelage and this pick for New England may prove to be one of the bigger steals of the draft in a few years. To editorialize some more, I believe this to be a great pick, if that wasn’t already very obvious.

NFL Draft and New England Patriots Talk with Mike Dussault

The 2011 NFL Draft is upon us, which means Noontime Sports is ready for the first round to begin on Thursday. So, with that being said, here is our conversation with Mike Dussault (Pats Propaganda) about the Draft itself, as well as the NFL Lockout and New England Patriots.

Matt Noonan: What would you say is the biggest and most important item the Patriots need to address in the NFL Draft?

Mike Dussault: The biggest item that needs to be addressed has to be improving the 32nd ranked 3rd down defense and that begins with adding a three-down player to the defensive front seven. While outside linebacker may be the biggest position in need of a talent upgrade, this years draft class isn’t great for that particular position, especially in the mid-to-late first round. However the draft is extremely rich in defensive ends who fit the Pats system. Guys like Cameron Jordan (CAL) and JJ Watt (Wisconsin) would bring immediate impacts in both the run and pass games.

The Pats should be able to add an outside linebacker project or two in the later rounds, but early on look for them to address defensive end and offensive line. The interior offensive line could also use a talent upgrade and there are some great prospects like Danny Watkins (Baylor), Derrick Sherrod (Mississippi State) or Clint Boling (Georgia) who could solidify multiple positions.

There are also a fair number of developmental tackles who could be groomed to take a starting spot on the left or right side depending on how Sebastian Vollmer projects and what happens with Matt Light‘s free agency status. Nate Solder (Colorado) is one in particular that would make a great bookend of the future with Vollmer.

MN: Going into the draft, which Patriots unit could be considered the weakest? Which one is the strongest? Also, how can the weaker unit be improved, if not through the Draft?

MD: It doesn’t take a Patriots uber-blogger like me to tell you it’s pass rush, pass rush, pass rush! Of course this could be oversimplifying matters a bit, but with the return of Leigh Bodden and the continued development of Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty and hopefully Brandon Meriweather, it looks like the back end of the pass defense is promising.

The main problem was that opposing teams converted 47% of their third downs against the Pats, which is bad enough for worst in the league (the best teams are around 30%). This problem was compounded by the losses of interior rushers Mike Wright and Myron Pryor to injury, along with Tully Banta-Cain‘s return to earth following a 10 sack season in 2009. So whether it’s interior rushers or edge rushers the Pats need to add some talent who can, at the very least, get quarterbacks off the spot and out of their comfort zone.

The Patriots offense has been a great strength over the past four seasons, despite different quarterbacks (Matt Cassel in ’08) and going from a spread, vertical attack to more of a two tight end horizontal attack in 2010. As long as the Tom Brady gets the protection and time he needs the Pats offense should continue to roll in 2011.

Not to say they are without needs. Stabilizing the offensive line for the twilight of Brady’s career is priority number one on that side of the ball, and the Pats look to be in prime position to do so in this draft. They could also use another running back to go with Benjarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, one who could compliment their games. While some say wide receiver, and specifically a deep threat, is a need, I believe they’ll allow Julian Edelman, Brandon Tate, and Taylor Price another year to develop in the system. 

MN: Out of all the college players who are entering the draft this year, which will have the most promising career?

MD: As always predicting the draft is somewhat of a crapshoot, but I believe that Marcel Dareus (DL, Alabama), AJ Green (WR, Georgia) and JJ Watt (DE, Wisonsin) look like the three safest, can’t-miss prospects this year. All are supremely talented, check out off the field, and bring the professional attitude required to be successful at the next level. 

MN: Yes, the Judge lifted the NFL Lockout ban on Monday, but still, so much has to occur before players can actually work out and return to their day-to-day roles with the organization. How much has this current off-season downgraded the NFL as a whole and in your opinion, will there be a season come September? Yes or No? Why?

MD: While the NFL hasn’t lost the diehards like myself  just yet, the lockout, and perhaps most importantly the rhetoric thrown back and forth between the two sides has absolutely had an impact on the game, whether they want to admit it or not. Interest in the draft is down this year, as are the the number of visitors to NFL.com. The longer we go without a new CBA the more harmful that impact will be.

To be honest I really don’t know what will happen this fall. We could start on time. We could miss three games (and still manage a full 16-game slate because the NFL designed the schedule to accommodate), or we could miss the entire season. What I do know is that the debate will be tied up in the courts well into the summer.

What needs to happen is the two sides have to get back to the bargaining table and negotiate a new CBA. Either side winning outright would be bad for the game, so it needs to be a compromise that maintains the competitive balances the NFL has established, but also takes care of the players both during and after their careers.

My rough prediction? Games will be missed. 

MN:How much would not having a NFL season hurt the league, players and fans? Would college football then dominate the football world? Would football fans flock to the NHL or MLB instead?

MD: The NHL is still trying to recover from their lost season in 2004, not to say they were as big as the NFL, but the impact of a lost season cannot be understated. As Vince Wilfork said on Tuesday, he might consider retirement if there’s no football in 2011. I’m sure other players might do the same. Players like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, the stars of the NFL, would lose one of the last few seasons of their primes, and who knows what kind of effect a full year off would have on the quality of the product on the field.

MN: Finally, assuming that there is a season, which Patriots game on the schedule will be one of those “can’t miss games?”

MD: In week four, Rex Ryan and the New York Jets will return to Foxboro and while the Patriots would never admit to looking past week one, it’s surely a game that is circled in their minds. There’s also the annual Brady-Manning game, as well as a return to the AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. These three games will likely be the defining ones of the season.

Follow Mike Dussault on Twitter (@PatsPropaganda

Expectations Were Exceeded: Patriots 2010 Season

 

No one in New England, not even in America, Europe and Asia or on the planet Earth imagined that the New England Patriots would finish their 2010 season with 14 wins.

Ask any Patriots fan this week and surely they may say, “I knew this would happen” or “Of course they were destined to earn 14 wins because of their quarterback, Tom Brady.

Yet, despite all the doubters who tossed around the ideas of the Patriots being a .500 team or even worse, clearly, their analysis was proven wrong.

Entering training camp in July, no one exactly knew what this Patriots team would be like or if they had fully recovered from their 33-14 beat down by the Baltimore Ravens during the first round of the 2009 NFL Playoffs. There were the usual faces, as well as multiple rookies or first-year players that made many fans begin to doubt the outcome of this squad. Although, under the guidance of Bill Belichick, it is almost a guarantee that they will have immediate success no matter who plays or sits every Sunday.

In fact, excluding his first season with the Patriots in 2000, he has led the squad to five AFC Championship contests, four Super Bowls and has acquired three Lombardi trophies.

The defense was the biggest concern during July and August, but so was their offensive line. Who was going to fill the void of Logan Mankins for nearly half the season? Was Brady healthy enough to lead his team to victory during the fourth quarter? Would Wes Welker be the same player he once was before tearing his ACL during the final regular season game in ’09?

Questions, questions and more questions continued to build prior to their opening game against the Cincinnati Bengals, but after an impressive win, Randy Moss tried to steer the ship in the wrong direction by complaining for 14-minutes straight about needing a new contract. Unfortunately for Moss, his message didn’t distract the Patriots too much and eventually he was forced to leave town and return to the team that he began his NFL career with, which was the Minnesota Vikings.

Moss’s comments could not bring down the Patriots and neither did a Kevin Faulk season ending injury too during their week two contest against the New York “Football” Jets. Although, with a few minor tweaks and only one loss through the first five weeks, the Patriots seemed destined to finish the season 15-1.

The Patriots continued to pile up impressive wins against Baltimore, Pittsburgh, San Diego, Indianapolis and eventually New York on “Monday Night Football,” which prompted all Bostonians to believe that they were indeed watching one of Belichick’s finest teams. They may have not been the squad that finished [16-0] in ’07, but they were a team that relied heavily upon teamwork and hard work ethics.

Various players that had joined the team midway through the season or were deemed the typical rookies began to shine at important moments. Running back Danny Woodhead became a household name, as well as a fan favorite too. His small frame allowed fans to connect and realize that maybe they too could be the next Patriots running back, (fat chance).

Both rookie tight ends, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski became reliable targets for Brady, whether it was for a short yardage pick up or red zone strike, both young men were there to make the difference.

On defense, it was clearly cornerback Devin McCourty who provided great defensive coverage on all-star opposing receivers. Even linebacker Brandon Spikes chipped in when he could, although, it is debatable if he was more effective on the field or off it.

Besides these “no names” or rookies, the Patriots exceeded on all sides of the ball, but most importantly, they showed the importance of team football. They have always strived toward playing “team football” and not being one or two stars, but in the end, they clearly exceeded their pre-season expectations and were able to walk out of their locker room Monday feeling somewhat proud or optimistic for the future.

The Patriots maybe young and inexperienced at some positions, although, after a few more years of remaining as a unit, this squad could return to their ’03 and ’04 form and add a few more Super Bowl banners to Gillette Stadium.

For the time being, lets at least consider that this year was unexpected and that winning 14 games was unexpected, but beating rivals and all those “heavyweight” opponents clearly demonstrated to any casual or aggressive fan that expectations were exceeded.