Lindberg: New England Patriots Draft Grade

How much will Nate Solder impact the New England Patriots in the future?

By Andy Lindberg 

I feel like I should be yet another tool to give out a draft grade.  Therefore I will grade the Patriots. I have been watching the Patriots since I moved to Connecticut from Alabama in 1992. (Side note, I HATE how the New York Jets drafted Alabama’s former quarterback, Greg McElroy. That made me sad).

I love football, but what the NFL draft has become, a spectacle after the meat-market that is the televised NFL scouting combine, is a flash and flare party which sees men who have never taken a snap in the National Football League take their first steps toward garnering $40 million signing bonus’ who later turn out to be the next Ryan Leaf.

In short, it upsets me. It is unnecessarily exhibited and covered by men who can’t seem to do anything but yell at me over the television screen. I understand the player has great “football smarts,” but you’ve yelled it at me for the past eight picks.  It’s a wonder any of these players ever fails. So “tool upon tool” is screaming letter grades at me like these teams just took an exam. I will be joining the ranks of them, providing you a letter grade at the end of this and oh, by the way, I’m sorry in advance for my weakness.

That said the draft is a necessity for the business of building a football team.  There are a lot of teams who drafted well because they drafted needs. The Patriots last year had an exceptional draft, fixing gaping holes at the tight end and defensive back positions. This past season, both improved exponentially (especially at tight end) and the only glaring hole was the need for a pass rusher and offensive line help.  Before I begin let it be known that even though I may like some of the players New England drafted (as made obvious with my pick by pick coverage) that does not mean I feel they were smart picks in some cases.

The Patriots’ first pick was offensive tackle Nate Solder from Colorado. Given the futures of Matt Light and Logan Mankins with the team, this was a very good pick.  However after that, New England’s draft went downhill. They did nothing at all to address the pass rush, even with several on the board.

With the first overall pick of the second round, they drafted Ras-I Dowling, a cornerback from Virginia. I liked this pick because I thought New England could still add good pass rush depth later in the second round, given the talent still out there.  Even with Leigh Bodden coming back, Dowling could provide very capable help at the lower end of the depth chart in his first year, and could prove to be a very valuable special-teamer immediately.

Will the former Patriots running back core be effected by the 2011 NFL Draft?

After that it got bad. The Patriots drafted two running backs in a row even though BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a fantastic year and Danny Woodhead took over the Kevin Faulk role. Yes, New England needed a little more depth at that position, but one of those picks (preferably the earlier, Shane Vereen pick) should have been a pass-rusher.

Picking Ryan Mallett was a great selection, as I believe New England got a steal.  Mallett could also prove to be great trade bait in a few years if Tom Brady is still racking up great numbers. A guy like Mallett won’t sit as a backup for long, not with his potential.

In the fifth round New England drafted TCU’s Marcus Cannon, an offensive lineman who dropped to round five because of a very recent cancer diagnosis. His prognosis is excellent, and doctors anticipate a recovery very soon. If he can play up to his potential in a year or two, he will have been a good steal.

The Patriots finished the draft with Markell Carter, an outside linebacker from Central Arkansas and Malcolm Williams, a defensive back from TCU. Size-wise, Carter fits the profile of the type of linebacker New England loves. I hope he proves to be a fantastic player down the road, but for now, he’s simply a sixth round pick.

The Patriots had a need, and did not address it, even with all the available needs.  They added more picks for next year via trades, but the time for stockpiling picks is over. This year it was time to cash in and the Patriots didn’t do it. More than likely one of those running back picks is going to turn out to be a wasted pick. There’s only so much playing time for a running back with Ellis and Woodhead playing. There was no reason not to pick a pass rusher in that situation.

I used to give the Pats the benefit of the doubt, but for the past few years, one of the needs has been the same and New England has done little to address it. New York’s Mark Sanchez kept his jersey very clean during the playoff matchup with New England and that’s ultimately what ended up costing Tom Brady and Co. another shot at a title. If the Patriots cannot get to the quarterback, no regular season record is going to change the fact that in the playoffs, they’re going to get burned.

Patriots draft grade (according to me, who’s opinion really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but here at Noontime Sports it does): C

An average grade for an average draft.

I still love them, though. Go Pats!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.