Draft Review – New England Patriots

by Tommy Lawlor  –  http://www.ScoutsNotebook.com

New England Patriots

1 – OT Nate Solder – 6’8, 319 – Colorado
2 – CB Ras-I Dowling – 6’1, 198 – Virginia
2 – RB Shane Vereen – 5’10, 210 – Cal
3 – RB Stevan Ridley – 5’11, 225 – LSU
3 – QB Ryan Mallett – 6’7, 245 – Arkansas
5 – OG Marcus Cannon – 6’5, 358 – TCU
5 – TE Lee Smith – 6’6, 266 – Marshall
6 – LB Markell Carter – 6’4, 252 – Central Arkansas
7 – DB Malcolm Williams – 5’10, 204 – TCU

You never know what to expect from Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Except for them dealing picks for future 1st rounders. The Pats love to trade for future picks. At some point in the future I expect them to control an entire round. Belichick would only trade the picks for more picks anyway so it doesn’t matter. I think we could have a movie scene where Bud Fox yells at him, “How many picks is enough, BB? How many first round picks is enough?”.

The Pats spent their first 1st round pick on OT Nate Solder. With LT Matt Light poised to leave in free agency, the Pats needed a viable replacement. Solder has great potential. He’s huge and a good athlete. He is everything you want in a LT. The former TE started his final 3 years at Colorado. He wasn’t a great college player, but could be one of those guys who is actually better in the NFL. When Solder played well, he was really impressive. He was inconsistent and that’s one of the reasons I liked Gabe Carimi and Anthony Castonzo better. Frankly, I was shocked the Pats passed on Castonzo. He seemed like an ideal fit for them.

Solder needs coaching. He got exposed at the Senior Bowl. You could see his physical gifts, but also see that he’s not a skilled blocker. He’s more athlete than offensive lineman. New England has done a good job of developing blockers over the years so Solder will have a good chance to succeed. He’s got to learn to play with better pad level. If you’re too high in the NFL, you’re dead meat. Dwight Freeney will eat you alive. While Solder isn’t polished, he is a decent run blocker. Some athletic types can be finesse, but Solder showed a tough side on run plays. He was good value at pick 17.

The Pats also had pick 28. Rather than take the best available pass rusher/DL they decided to deal it to the Saints for a 2nd rounder this year and a 1st rounder next year. The Saints then took RB Mark Ingram. The Pats didn’t have to wait long to pick again. They had the Panthers 2nd round pick from a trade last year. New England chose CB Ras-I Dowling from Virginia. Dowling had a down Senior season, mainly due to injury. That hurt his value. A good year could have put him in the mix with Prince Amukamara. Dowling is a big corner and runs pretty well. He had a terrific career up to 2010. Belichick likes big CBs. Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden were recent veteran additions with size. Dowling is more of a long term answer. He fits in well with the Patriots because he can be a playmaker in the passing game, but is also a good hitter and tackler. Dowling is also a high character guy that will fit in well in the locker room.  

The Pats used another 2nd round pick on Cal RB Shane Vereen. I was high on Vereen, but even I didn’t expect him to go in the 2nd round. That pick caught me off guard. Vereen is an excellent fit for the New England offense. He can be a workhorse RB when that’s what they need. Vereen caught 74 career passes and is a good receiver. Cal sometimes lined him up in the slot. The Pats like backs that can catch the ball. He also has some KOR experience. Vereen is a good athlete and skilled RB. He is strong enough to break tackles, but also has good elusiveness. Gifted runner. He played in a pro style offense at Cal so adjusting to the NFL shouldn’t be as much of a challenge for him. I really liked Vereen and think he’ll be an excellent addition to the NE offense, even if he went sooner than I expected.

Bill Belichick threw a major curveball when he used his 3rd round pick on another RB, this time going for LSU’s Stevan Ridley. The Patriots had gotten old in the backfield so an infusion of youth was a good idea, but consecutive picks early in the draft just wasn’t something I expected. Ridley is a good complement to Vereen and the other guys on the roster. Ridley is a big back at 225 pounds. He ran for 272 yards in his first couple of years before having a breakout season in 2010. Ridley ran for 1,147 yards and 15 TDs as a Junior. He then declared for the draft. I was bothered by the fact he left after just having one good year. Generally I’m in favor of backs going early. They only have so many carries in their bodies. That wasn’t a factor with Ridley because he was used so little for the past couple of years. Ridley is a N-S runner who has some pop. He stays behind his pads and gets into tacklers. Ridley has good feet and cuts well for a big back. Interesting note about the 2 RBs that NE took. Both guys played mostly in the I-formation. A lot of RBs now play in the spread and don’t understand how to run behind a FB or how to read blocks. That’s not the case with Vereen or Ridley.

New England kept things interesting when they made another selection in the 3rd round. This time they went for QB Ryan Mallett. Belichick likes to gamble on high risk-high reward guys when the value is good. He took WR/RS Brandon Tate like that a few years back and Tate is paying nice dividends. Mallett has 1st round physical ability, but there were serious character issues that killed his value. It also doesn’t help him that he’s a huge pocket passer at a time when teams want guys with at least some mobility. I’m sure Belichick is hoping that Mallett can be Matt Cassell, pt. 2. Develop him for a couple of years. Play him if needed. Then trade him for a 1st round pick. I don’t see Mallett as someone that Belichick would coach long term. Just a guess, though. Interesting note…Brady is a Michigan QB and Mallett began his career at Michigan before moving on to Arkansas. Mallett is in a great situation. There is no pressure on him and he will get good coaching. With his arm strength and passing skills, Mallett has the potential to be a good QB. He must continue to work on keeping his emotions in check. He also can learn a lot about leadership from studying what Brady does.

In the 5th round Belichick rolled the dice again. He took TCU offensive lineman Marcus Cannon. Interesting pick. Cannon played LT as a Senior, but also has experience at RT. He projects inside to G. The Pats haven’t taken many big linemen like him in recent years. Damien Woody is the last massive guy I can remember playing for them. Cannon was great value in the 5th. He fell from the 2nd round area because he was diagnosed with cancer and teams weren’t sure how that would affect his future. The good news is that he’s doing well and should be able to continue his football career. I don’t see him as a good fit for NE, but the value was excellent so it will be interesting to see if he makes it.

If Belichick likes anything more than trading picks, it is drafting TEs. He used a 5th round pick on Lee Smith from Marshall. Smith is massive at 6’6, 266. He’s more blocker than receiver, but can catch the ball. He is certainly going to the right team. The Pats love TEs and will keep several on the roster. The 2 from last year are gifted receivers. Smith needs to stand out as a blocker to make the roster. He was a good blocker at Marshall. He’s only a limited athlete, but that’s okay based on how he’ll be used.

New England finally got around to addressing the front seven with their 6th round pick. They took LB Markell Carter from Central Arkansas. I don’t think this is what Pats fans had in mind. They were more likely hoping for Robert Quinn or Ryan Kerrigan. Carter has the size the Pats like in their OLBs at 6’4, 252. He wasn’t a great college pass rusher, but did finish with 16.5 career sacks. The good news for Carter is that he won’t have to battle any high picks for a roster spot. The tough part will be adjusting from DE to OLB.

In the 7th round the Pats chose DB Malcolm Williams from TCU. Interesting. Williams was a JC transfer who played at TCU for 2 years. He spent time at Safety and CB. He actually made his biggest contribution as a STer. I didn’t study him thoroughly when watching TCU play. He was more of an afterthought. Williams finished his career with 22 tackles, mostly in kick coverage. He did have a good Pro Day. Is this a case of Bill Belichick trying to outsmart everyone and reaching or has he found a diamond in the rough? We’ll find out soon enough.

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