New England Patriots: Grading Each 2011 Draft Pick's Value

Caleb AbnerContributor IIIJanuary 9, 2012

New England Patriots: Grading Each 2011 Draft Pick's Value

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    Each NFL draft, teams have a chance to completely turn their luck around.

    Think of the dismal Cincinnati Bengals, who in one draft upgraded both their quarterback and their wide receiver, becoming a possible perennial contender. Andy Dalton might have emerged as the most successful quarterback/player overall from his draft class and is a strong contender for Rookie of the Year.

    Other teams do not have the 180-degree success of the Bengals.

    The Jaguars selected Blaine Gabbert early and have regressed overall. He may not last another season in the NFL. But then again, the whole team might just be overhauled. 

    For the Patriots, the 2011 draft was met with mixed reviews. Some saw their nine selections as genius, others viewed them as extremely foolish. Grades ranged from A+ to D.

    The true success of the 2011 draft will be seen in the 2012 season, when the rookies have gotten some experience in and are fighting for their jobs against the new rookie class. 

    For now, we can only grade them on their first season.

Nate Solder LT-17th Pick Overall

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    Nate Solder holds the distinction of being the Pats' first pick in the draft.

    He was meant to be Matt Light's replacement down the road, given a few years to grow as a player.

    Instead, he has had to start 13 games this season, due to the injuries to both Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer. 

    In his first game (versus the Miami Dolphins), Solder impressed, holding up against the relentless onslaught of Cameron Wake. Since then, he has only improved. 

    At times, the rookie left tackle has struggled to keep up with the quicker pass-rushers, but he is almost never overpowered. His potential seems to be great.

    Though he's no Jake Long, Solder was a great pick, the best of all the draft's tackles.

    A future need will be filled.

    Grade: A

Ras-I Dowling CB-33rd Pick Overall

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    Ras-I Dowling was supposed to fill the team's gaping hole at cornerback, which has never been more evident than in this season.

    Unfortunately, he was placed on IR after a hip injury knocked him out Week 2. 

    For his past success, Dowling was a great value, being on the 2010 All-American Second Team. 

    All the same, he simply did not produce this year. 

    The verdict is out until he can play more than one game the entire year. 

    Hopefully, that is in 2012. 

    Grade: C+

Shane Vereen RB-56th Pick Overall

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    Shane Vereen is another player who missed too much of his rookie season to be accurately judged for it.

    He played just two games, with varying results. 

    Week 11, against Kansas City, Vereen averaged 4.9 yards per carry and rushed for a touchdown in a convincing performance.

    Many thought that he could finish the season as the starting halfback.

    Week 12 vs. Philadelphia, the rookie managed only 18 yards in seven carries, an awful statistic. Since then, he has not played  a snap.

    Judging on his performances thus far, I don't see him having a huge upside. At best, Vereen will be used as a No. 2 halfback in the future and possibly for the screen pass.

    Grade: B-

Stevan Ridley RB-73rd Pick Overall

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    Stevan Ridley might just be the best running back on the Patriots' roster.

    He certainly has the most yards per carry. 

    Hailing from LSU, Ridley was the second consecutive RB drafted by Belichick.

    He was meant to be able to grow as a player for the next few years, until Green-Ellis and Woodhead have moved on from New England.

    Instead, Ridley has emerged to rush for 441 yards in only 87 attempts. Each game, he gets better and better, becoming more confident with each stride. 

    Based on this season, the only better rookie half back was Mark Ingram, who was ironically selected with one of the picks the Pats traded for future picks.

    Grade: A

Ryan Mallett QB-74th Pick Overall

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    No draft selection was met with more controversy than New England's third-round pick of Ryan Mallett, the Arkansas alum. 

    While in college, Mallett showed great arm strength, some inaccuracy and a small tendency to under-perform in big games.

    That's not to mention the drug use.

    A first-round talent was bumped to the third round, and if not for Belichick, below that.

    Mallett has kept quiet this season, and he has also not played a snap, though he is a permanent fixture on the sidelines. 

    Most assume Mallett is supposed to be Brady's replacement. Based on his preseason performance, that seems somewhat likely. 

    Grade: B

Marcus Cannon G-138th Pick Overall

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    When diagnosed with a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at the combine, many thought that Marcus Cannon's NFL career was over before it had begun.

    The projected first-rounder became a projected no-rounder.

    Luckily, the Patriots medical team examined Cannon and felt that he would be fine to play. 

    And right they were.

    On an offensive line that seems to be a revolving door of injuries, the rookie guard has had to step in repeatedly to protect the cash money.

    Cannon is looking like a future starter, a great boon to the aging O-Line.

    Grade: A

Lee Smith TE-159th Pick Overall

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    Lee Smith was drafted late and released Sept. 3rd.

    The day after, he was claimed by the Bills.

    In Buffalo, he has gone on to do virtually nothing, racking up a whopping 11 yards. 

    Grade: D

Markell Carter OLB-194th Pick Overall

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    Drafted in Round 6. 

    Cut. 

    Re-signed to practice squad. 

    Eh. 

    Grade: C

Malcolm Williams CB-219th Pick Overall

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    When a cornerback on the 2011 Patriots has barely played, there must be something terrible about his abilities. 

    Still, Williams has evaded a quick release or a demotion, so he must have a decent upside. 

    Grade: C

All in All

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    The 2011 draft was an interesting one to say the least for New England. 

    They acquired a potentially great tackle, a potentially great running back, a potentially great quarterback, a potentially decent running back, a potentially decent guard and a bunch of other guys who had minimal impact. 

    There were no upper-round draftees who look like they are going nowhere, unlike in previous drafts (2006). 

    Some of the rookies look like they will still be on the team in five years, unlike in previous drafts (2007).

    The impact of this draft will not be until a few years from now, as most of the picks were used to claim future replacements for some of the older players. 

    Perhaps more importantly, the 2011 draft granted the Pats some key picks for the 2012 draft, including two Round 1 and two Round 2 selections.

    Moving forward, I'd say that this was a solid draft. 

    Grade: A-