Thursday, June 23, 2011
KD's NFL Draft Grades - New England Patriots
For a team that most every fawns over for their ability to draft, the Patriots have been pretty poor at it the last few seasons, which makes their 14-2 finish in 2010 all the more impressive. Last year's class had a decent impact with TE's Rob Gronkowksi and Aaron Hernandez, along with LBs Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham. This year's Patriots draft class included a lot of trades, including their record streak with the Eagles, who've made a trade in each of the last 10 Drafts with the Patriots, but some teams have wisened up and haven't had the wool pulled over their eyes (49ers) as some teams have in the past (Raiders). New England still had a ton of ammo in the first three rounds, and ended up trading a portion of it for picks next year. That being said, let's take a look at what they did this year.
1st round, 17th overall) Nate Solder - T - Colorado
The Patriots O-line has been one of the more dominant ones over the years, but it's starting to come apart. RG Stephen Neal retired due to injury. LG Logan Mankins held out the first 10 games of last season, and was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, but New England put the franchise tag on him before the lockout; we'll see how that plays out. Veteran LT Matt Light is a free agent, so it made sense for the Patriots to grab one in the first round. Solder, a converted TE, is long and very lean, much like RT Sebastian Vollmer and is better in pass protection than he is in the ground game; which is good for New England, but he comes with some drawbacks.
How he fits in: The Solder pick is an insurance policy for Dante Scarnecchia's O-line unit. If Logan Mankins does someone leave, they could re-sign Matt Light and slide him to LG. If they somehow keep both Light and Mankins, Solider can be a swing tackle and learn for a year. Solder struggled mightily at the Senior Bowl and has trouble with physical pass-rushers, especially those with natural leverage. With his being 6'8" 319lbs, pretty much every pass-rusher will have leverage on him. Solder needs to add more strength, as he's not good in the ground game. New England doesn't run a lot, though BenJarvus Green-Ellis turned in a 1,000 yard season last year. Solder should have a shot to start as a rookie and Dante Scarnecchia is as good as it gets coaching up linemen.
Outlook: I feel like Anthony Castonzo, who went later on to the Colts, would've been a better fit, as he's a better all-around player. But, for what the Patriots want, Solder might fit the bill. Despite all of the 3-4 teams in teh AFC East, only Miami's Cameron Wake had more than 10 sacks last year, so he won't face that much elite competition in-division. As long as he keeps the Ghost of Bernard Pollard away from Tom Brady, he'll have earned his pay and more. As he develops and adds more strength, he could become one of the better LTs in the AFC. I liken him to Tennessee's Michael Roos, just without the run-blocking skills to this point.
2nd round, 33rd overall) Ras-I Dowling - CB - Virginia
One of the things the Patriots do well is draft to stop the teams in the AFC East, which has seen an influx of talent at receiver come in during the past few seasons. Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Brandon Marshall, Davone Bess, and Lee Evans all cause matchup problems and the Patriots added another solid corner to their secondary. A bigger CB at 6'1" 198lbs, Dowling should be able to come in and start right away opposite last year's rookie sensation Devin McCourty. Darius Butler and Kyle Arrington are adequate, but they're better served as nickel and dime backs. Dowling's got a great football IQ and is very athletic, despite not having standout speed. He's overcome a broken ankle and battled knee and hamstring issues as a senior, but in the Patriots scheme, he should be able to put everything together and become a day one starter.
2nd round pick, 56th overall) Shane Vereen - RB - California
Here's the Patriots draft took a bit of a wobble in my opinion. Kevin Faulk has been the classic 3rd down back in the NFL for seemingly forever. But age and injury have taken their toll on him, though he says he'd like to come back. Shane Vereen gives them a more explosive option as a 3rd down back. However, with the law firm that is BenJarvus Green-Ellis set to be a free agent, and Danny Woodhead not being able to sneak up on anyone this year, the Patriots needed a feature back in my mind. Vereen carried the rock plenty in his three years at Cal notching 556 carries and 29TDs on just under 3,000 yards rushing. He also caught 74 passes, so the attraction to the Patriots pass-happy system is natural. But, isn't he just a suped-up version of Danny Woodhead? I think they could've had him a round or two later on.
3rd round, 73rd overall) Stevan Ridley - RB - LSU
The wobble continued as the Patriots drafted a potential to BenJarvus Green-Ellis should he leave via free agency. Ridley carried a late round grade, and was a bit of a one-year wonder for the Tigers. He doesn't have a lot of tread worn off the tires so to speak, having totaled just 306 carries over his career. He's a one-cut type of runner who is sort of like a beggar's Arian Foster. He's got decent size at 5'11" 225lbs, but he's not very fast, and isn't going to make many people miss him in space. He's a one gear and go back who can churn out hard yards, but that's about it. Ridley's not a big threat in the passing game catching just 11 passes as a senior for a paltry 61 yards. It'll be interesting to see how Ridley fits into the Patriots scheme, as I picture him as the replacement for Sammy Morris in a sort of pseudo-fullback/short yardage and special teams ace.
3rd round, 74th overall) Ryan Mallett - QB - Arkansas
Purely an arbitrage pick here. New England's pretty high on backup Brian Hoyer, but should Tom Brady go down to injury again, the Patriots aren't going to go as far as Matt Cassel took them in 2008. Mallett's probably the best pure passing QB in the draft, and has excellent arm strength. However, off the field issues, questions about his work ethic, failed drug tests, blowing off the Panthers pre-draft meeting, and everything else caused Mallett to fall into the late 3rd round. Either way, Mallett went much, much lower than he should have, and the Patriots, while they probably won't ever get much from him on the field unless Tom Brady gets injured, they'll probably land a draft pick in a year or two, much like the Eagles are about to with Kevin Kolb. A ho-hum pick in terms of production, but that's not the purpose for the Mallett pick, and with a team capable of going 14-2, they've got a lot of leeway to make such a move.
5th round, 138th overall) Marcus Cannon - G TCU
Marcus Cannon would've been drafted much higher, but in the pre-draft process, it was discovered that he had a treatable version of lymphoma that had developed in his groin over four years ago. Cannon's currently undergoing treatment, and his playing status for this season's up in the air. It might've even been a planned "redshirt" year for him anyway as the Patriots have some younger guys in Dan Connolly and Rich Orhnberger that will also get a crack at replacing the retired Stephen Neal. Cannon the player, was a LT for the Horned Frogs and is very athletic for being 6'5" 358lbs. I'm sure the Patriots will want him to cut more weight so they can use him to pull on counters and bootlegs and such for Tom Brady. He's got outstanding push in the run game and is adequate in his mirror and slide technique, however, for a guy with his size, he lacks a nasty demeanor. As long as his long-term health is okay, Cannon will be a future starter for the Pats.
5th round, 159th overall) Lee Smith - TE - Marshall
Bill Belichick loves him some TEs. Alge Crumpler had a crucial drop in the AFC Divisional round, and his blocking prowess as dipped some, which makes him a candidate for the turk in New England. That's where Lee Smith comes in. He's essentially like having a 3rd tackle on the field and reminds me of a bigger version of the Bengals Reggie Kelly, whom was dominant as a blocker in their 2005 playoff season. Smith is huge at 6'5" 266lbs, much like Crumpler was, and he's very physical off the line. He's athletic enough to reach, scoop, and pull when asked, but he's not going to be busting anyone up the seam. He could be a nice goaline option for New England with his size, as he caught 74 passes for the Tundering Herd, but had just 3 TDs in his career. New England found plenty of ways to use Gronkowski, Hernandez, and Crumpler last year, so it stands to reason that they'll find a way to use Smith if they do in fact drop Crumpler.
6th round, 194th overall) Markell Carter - LB - Central Arkansas
The Patriots have long needed to upgrade their pass-rushing talent at OLB. Tully Banta-Cain is the best of the bunch, and they're still developing Jermaine Cunningham. The Pats are rumored to be heavily interested in Matt Roth, should he get out of Cleveland as he's rumored to do, but Roth's more of an edge-setting run stopper than anything else. Rob Ninkovich is a cover guy. They don't really have a true pass-rusher. Carter has a chance to earn a roster spot if he shows he can get after the QB in camp and in preseason. He's got a nice build at 6'4" 248lbs, and is very athletic, but lacks the strenght necessary at the NFL level, so the practice squad could be in his near future. Carter recorded 5.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss as a DE his senior season. A worthy developmental prospect for the Pats.
7th round, 219th overall) Malcolm Williams - CB - TCU
Another developmental prospect at corner here. Williams, a JUCO transfer played two years for TCU. He's got some experience at S and at CB, but made his hay on special teams primarily. While he didn't start a game, he's got decent size at 5'11' 204lbs, and is fairly athletic. While I doubt he supplants anyone off the roster, Williams bears watching as he could make an impact on special teams. There weren't really a whole lot of prospects left on the Patriots board at this juncture, so Williams is a player who makes sense for them as a depth pick.
Overall Grade: C
The Patriots landed some talent and traded for some future draft picks, which I'm sure they'll trade away in the future. Nate Solder, Ras-I Dowling, and Marcus Cannon will all be starters for the Patriots. Shane Vereen fills a niche role as a 3rd down back. As does Lee Smith. However, the Patriots overdrafted Stevan Ridley and only got developmental prospects with their later round picks. They also didn't address a pass-rushing OLB need that's been looming over the roster since Mike Vrabel left town in the Matt Cassel trade. While there's no grading Bill Belichick's genius, I don't think the Patriots capitalized as much as they could have with this draft. I think you can make a strong case that they would've been served well to keep their other 1st round pick and taking the very player the Saints got when they acquired it with Mark Ingram. Ryan Mallett was a value pick, but what's he really going to do for the Patriots? Unless Tom Brady gets hurt, it's hard to imagine Mallett setting foot on the field for them, so he'll likely get them a future pick, which will probably get traded later on anyway. The Patriots cycle through picks and don't land as many quality players as they could. It remains to be seen what kind of production they get out of this class, but as it stands right now, I think it's very average.