New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is considered a mastermind on the field but is often praised for the schemes he commits on Draft day. The "hoodie" always has a way of drafting players some of us have never even heard of on draft day, getting steals in the later rounds, and stockpiling future draft picks for the Patriots year after year.
After the first three rounds of the 2011 NFL Draft, Belichick has managed to do all three.
With No.17 overall selection in the first round, the Patriots selected OT Nate Solder. With the pick, it was clear the Patriots took a big step in improving and revamping their offensive line, which could have been in serious jeopardy if the team lost out on Logan Mankins and Matt Light in free agency.
Solder is 6-foot-8 and 319 pounds and will most likely be the Patriots future left tackle. Solder was the team captain of out of Colorado. The tackle has already drawn comparisons to longtime Patriot Bruce Armstrong due to his position change in college from tight-end to offensive lineman. Solder will add an immediate boost to the Patriots offensive line and will add more protection to an aging Tom Brady.
With 28th overall selection in the first round, Belichick dealt the pick to the New Orleans Saints for a 2012 first round selection and a second round pick in this year’s draft. The Saints took highly touted prospect Mark Ingram with the pick.
Bill Belichick said that defensive backs are like pitchers in baseball -- you can never have enough of them.
With the first overall selection of the second round, Belichick and the Patriots took a risk and drafted Virginia cornerback Ras-I Dowling. He may have been a risk but has heavy upside. Dowling is a tackling machine. In 2009, Dowling had 58 tackles and three interceptions. He is also considered a great teammate and was a team captain at Virgina.
With a team that already has four cornerbacks, this pick was a bit of a shock. With 2010 first-round pick Devin McCourty as their top corner, veteran Leigh Bodden, third-year man Kyle Arrington, and hopeful Darius Butler, all listed as corners, it didn't seem like the Patriots had an immediate need for the position.
After the pick, the immediate thought was with six cornerbacks on the roster contending for spots, there are going to be some tough position battles at the end of training camp.
Dowling can add an immediate presence in New England. At 6-foot-1, 198 pounds, the corner has had a history of injuries but when healthy has been one of the most electric players on defense at the college football level.
With the 56th overall pick in the second round(pick acquired from Saints), the Patriots selected California running back Shane Vereen, the third running back taken in this year’s draft(Mark Ingram 28; Ryan Williams 38).
Vereen who is 5-10, 210 pounds was obviously one of the players New England was targeting from the beginning; the team hasn't selected a running back since 2006. Vereen had a solid performance at the NFL combine. The back is known for his good hands out of the backfield and ability to pass block. Vereen had the strongest performance out of all of the running backs on the bench press. He was able to put up 31 reps on the bench press.
Vereen had an impressive senior season. The running-back rushed 231 times for 1,167 yards, and 13 touchdowns.
Vereen looks as an immediate replacement for Kevin Faulk, who is most likely not going to be on the Patriots 2011 roster. His speed and power make him a threat to an already solid New England backfield with Ben-Jarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead.
Belichick was at it again in the third round. He traded away their 60th overall pick to the Houston Texans for the 74th pick and the 138th( pick in round 5). The Patriots selected LSU running back Stevan Ridley with their original 73rd pick.
In two consecutive picks, the Patriots had two running backs.
The pick completed the Patriot backfield and showed Belichick's liking to the depth in the running back crop. Ridley is a power back at 5-foot-11, 225 pounds. In 2010, Ridely powered his way for 1,147 yards on 249 attempts, and punched in 15 touchdowns for the Tigers.
Boldest Move Yet?
With the 74th overall pick, the Patriots drafted quarterback Ryan Mallet in the third round. It was a move that most couldn't have predicted for a few reasons.
1. Few draft experts saw Mallet's stock falling past the second round at the latest.
2. The Patriots have one of the best quarterbacks in the league that is coming off one of the best seasons of his career.
3. The Patriots hardly take high-profile offensive players in the first couple of rounds.
One agreement, it was a move that few saw coming. Tom Brady is without a doubt the starter and the Patriots also have a promising backup in Brian Hoyer.
After this move, questions immediately came to mind. Is this a perfect fit for Mallet to succeed Brady? Was this another brilliant move by Belichick? Are Brady's days as the starter numbered?
Of course only time will tell. Mallet had an above average college career. In his senior season at Arkansas, Mallet three for 3,869 yards, 32 touchdowns, and had a QB rating of 163.6.
Mallet is considered a quarterback who can make all the throws; his arm was tested of being able to 87 yards. His draft stock seemed to fall because of non-football-related issues.
Change In Offense?
It was pretty much clear that through the first three rounds, Belichick is planning on changing the Patriots offense to pass happy, to evening it out more with the run. The Patriots now have four running backs who could take the ball on any snap of the game in Jarvus-Green Ellis, Woodhead, Vereen, and Ridely. This is the most depth the team has had in the position in recent memory.
Can you blame Belichick for drafting two backs? Brady is aging and in the 2010 postseason, it was evident that Brady had to play almost a perfect game for the Patriots to advance in the playoffs. With a more balanced offense, the Patriots offensive attack will be more lethal. Having four different backs that have different skills can take more pressure off of Brady and the offensive line. It would definitely help that on 2nd and six, the defense doesn't know if the Patriots will drop back and pass or hand it off to one their multi-talented backs. Having a strong running game will allow the Patriots to have more versatility in the offensive department.
Pass Rush: Not A Top Priority?
After the third round ended, the Patriots had drafted two running backs, an offensive tackle, a quarterback, and a cornerback. The main question was with such depth in the draft at the outside-linebacker position, how could the Patriots avoid one their biggest problems, to just have depth on offensive positions? If you try to think about what the answer to this question is, there are three possible outcomes.
1. Belichick is satisfied with the younger players (Jermaine Cunningham, Rob Ninkovich, and Dane Fletcher) the Patriots already have on the roster and has a strong faith that they will develop into pass rushers.
2. After locking in Solder at the No.17 pick and Dowling at the No.33, Belichick felt like there were no more available players worth drafting that were better than the players the team already has at the position.
3. The Patriots feel like they can address the pass rushing issue through free agency(when/if it starts) or can address the position with their later picks in the 5th, 6th, or 7th round.
Is Ryan Mallet The Brady Replacement?
All great things must come to an end. As a loyal Patriot followers, we all knew there would be a day when Brady would no longer be the quarterback of the Patriots. Is Mallet the replacement? I think he very well could be but we won’t get a glimpse of him for a few seasons. Not too much energy should be wasted on this because Brady is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and after unanimously receiving 50 MVP votes, there is no reason to even think of a replacement for the three-time super bowl champion . I suspect Mallet will take a similar road of Matt Cassel and Brian Hoyer, learning behind the best in the business. Belichick transformed Cassel from a career back-up, to an NFL starter for the one the best upcoming teams in the NFL.
Of course we would of liked to see Belichick address the pass rush. It's a definite need for the Patriots but he has made some smart moves so far and has addressed some of their team needs. A strong offensive tackle will be key for our offense for years to come, especially if the team can't resign Mankins or Light. Another lock down corner if he stays healthy, would be a huge boost for our defense and if the Patriots can use their four running backs as a weapon, their offense will be very tough to stop. Belichick also set the Patriots up with two first and two second round selections in 2012. Belichick may have made some questionable moves today, but he knows what he's doing and team still has four more selections in this year's draft.