New England Patriots Rookies: Expectations Adjusted for Effects of Lockout

Aaron DodgeAnalyst IJuly 14, 2011

New England Patriots Rookies: Expectations Adjusted for Effects of Lockout

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    Like it or not the lockout is still on-going and it's effects will continue to be felt once it's lifted. The NFL offseason has been a sham thus far as none of the annually scheduled events have taken place.

    The incoming 2011 draft class will have a massive learning curb as they adjust to the big leagues and attempt to play catchup on all the time they've missed. The New England Patriots undoubtedly prepared for this as best they could and one would hope they were able to give as much instruction as possible to their newcomers while they could.

    Expectations for these rookies need to be adjusted due to the effects of the lockout. Many of these youngsters will have far different roles than first projected after April's Draft and here's a look at those adjusted projections.

1st Round- Nate Solder

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    New England's first-round pick is perhaps the most hurt by the extended league lockout. Nate Solder is undoubtedly in position to be the Patriots franchise left tackle for years to come, but let there be no misunderstanding here: The kid is a developmental project.

    He's only played the position for two years and he converted from tight end as a junior. Solder has been heralded for his athletic makeup and coachability, two aspects that will work in his favor as he transitions into the NFL.

    To many, the 6'8'' monster lacks the necessary build to step in and play at the next level right away. He's a raw talent in a position that he needs more experience in and Solder is going to need time to bulk up.

    Had he been able to get into the Patriots facility before training camp this situation could have been a lot different, but that hasn't been the case. The Patriots will likely re-sign Matt Light or look for other options at left tackle, at least until Solder is deemed ready to step in.

    He's billed as a quick learner so that could conceivably occur this season, it would be wise for the team to have an insurance plan just in case.

2nd Round- Ras-I Dowling

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    The Patriots have shown the willingness to throw youngsters in the secondary into the fire in years past and I'd expect the same with second rounder Ras-I Dowling.

    He'll see extensive special teams snaps and will likely have to earn a larger role on the defense, but expect to see him given a role early on. Dowling has the physical makeup to be a serious weapon on defense for New England.

    The Patriots' 2010 rookie phenom, Devin McCourty, recently offered his early analysis of Dowling.

    "We have some receivers in our league now that are huge, just in our division last year, playing against Braylon Edwards and Brandon Marshall," he said. "When you line up at the size [Dowling] has, he can step up and go toe for toe with those guys physically, and he has good speed so he can run with them too."

    McCourty went on to praise Dowling's knowledge of the game as well.

    "When I first walked up to him, I heard he was big, but he was like 6-2, maybe 200 , 205 pounds. He looks like a specimen, I think when guys get drafted, everyone looks at their physical tools and what they might be able to do on the field right away, but just talking to him, I'm trying to explain the defense and as I'm saying a sentence, he's just finishing it. It seems like he has a lot of football knowledge. I think that's important when you come in to the New England defense; if you have some football knowledge that you can put together with what Coach Belichick teaches us, I think it can go a long way."

2nd Round- Shane Vereen

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    Shane Vereen has a ton of upside in New England's offensive scheme. He's pegged as an effective blocker and was heavily involved in Cal's passing attack.

    The Patriots will roll with the hot hand in the backfield no matter who it is in 2011. BenJarvus Green-Ellis was considered a candidate for release prior to the 2010 season. He entered the year fourth on the depth chart and finished as the starter with over 1,000 rushing yards.

    Vereen has the skill set to eventually take over as the starter, but it's far too early to expect that type of production out of him. He'll be given early reps so the team can gauge his immediate ability and his load will depend on his success rate.

3rd Round- Stevan Ridley

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    Stevan Ridley may not have the upside that Vereen possesses, but he could very well be on the field more often, at least early on.

    Ridley is a north and south bruiser who could see immediate reps on the goal line and late in games when the team wants to kill the clock. Like Vereen, Ridley will have to earn further reps in a crowded backfield and he faces direct competition from Green-Ellis, who relies on a similar skill set.

    Many see Ridley developing into the starters role, but we've most likely got a situational power back in this case. He has carried the full load before and it's possible that he could eventually develop enough to tote the ball 15-20 a game, but that remains unlikely.

    It's widely known that the Patriots reached a bit when grabbing Ridely in the third round which suggests they value him for a specific purpose and he'll likely be a role guy for that reason.

3rd Round- Ryan Mallett

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    If all goes to plan Ryan Mallett will never see the field in 2010 and beyond, at least in a Patriots uniform.

    Mallett was a value pick for the Patriots who have absolutely no need at the quarterback position. He'll likely develop behind Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer and may eventually be used as trade bait. There's a chance he could be used as the primary backup if New England trades Hoyer.

    He'll only see the field in Foxboro as a result of injury or as an opposing visitor in the future. The Patriots invested a third round pick on Mallett and if all goes to plan they'll be able to showcase him in the preseason for quarterback-needy teams.

    There's a high price on competent signal callers in this league and the Patriots' front office knows that full well. If Mallet can cast aside his perceived immaturity and attitude issues while posting productive numbers he could bring back at least a first rounder in a deal.

5th Round- Marcus Cannon

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    We may not see much of Marcus Cannon in 2010, but rest assured this kid can be a big time contributor once he regains full health.

    This 6'5'', 360-pounder was considered one of the best overall athletes at TCU and set several records in the school's weight room. Many scouts had him pegged as a lock to go in the first round, but his health concerns allowed him to slip into the fifth.

    Cannon's chemotherapy treatments have gone phenomenally well thus far and his cancer appears to be in full remission. While the reports on his health are positive, it's still far too soon to begin speculating on his immediate football future.

    Getting this kid the support and treatment he needs should be the primary concern right now. Here's to a hoping for a full recovery and seeing Cannon on the field as soon as possible.

    When that does happen we could be looking at a mauling guard and capable tackle for years to come.

5th Round- Lee Smith

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    The tight end position was one I went on record saying the Patriots wouldn't address in the 2011 Draft, but New England proved me wrong in the fifth round.

    Lee Smith is an impressive physical specimen at 6'6'' and 260lbs. He's no field stretcher as he only runs the 40-yard dash a hair under five seconds, but he's fantastic blocker and has decent hands.

    His immediate future will likely depend on the health of Alge Crumpler, who underwent extensive shoulder surgery this offseason.

    Crumpler has a $2.4 million salary next season which will be the last year of his contract. Lee won't see much of the field if Crumpler is retained in 2010, but he has the potential to develop and take over Crumpler's role going forward. 

    The Patriots may elect to see what type of versatility they can coax out of Lee as well. Don't be surprised to see him employed on the offensive line or at snapper early on in camps.

6th Round- Markell Carter

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    Much to the chagrin of many fans, New England addressed one of it's biggest needs, but did so with it's second to last pick.

    Markell Carter played college ball for Central Arkansas. He joined the team as a wide receiver surprisingly enough and eventually transitioned to the defensive end position. He'll need to adapt to a brand new position once again in the Patriots' 3-4 defensive scheme as he'll be moving to outside linebacker.

    He’s late round pick from a small scale school, but he can’t be written off. The Patriots scouted and visited Carter before his selection and he fits the size and speed requirements they look for at outside linebacker.

    Will he turn into a Hall of Fame pass rusher that the league fears for a decade? Probably not, but he can develop into a productive situational rusher given the right circumstances.

    New England has no bones about throwing young talent on the field early. If Carter can prove competent he's got a clear path to playing time at a position lacking proven depth.

7th Round- Malcolm Williams

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    The Patriots doubled dipped with the Malcolm Williams pick. The corner/safety hails from TCU where he played with Cannon, New England's 5th rounder.

    Williams made his mark as a special teams standout where his production likely caught the Patriots' attention. In a conference call with the Boston Globe, TCU coach Gary Patterson offered his assessment on Williams.

    "(He) has like a 42-inch vertical, unbelievable athletic ability, played all special teams [positions]," said Williamson. "Malcolm is your true evidence of New England doing their homework."

    The Patriots have placed a increased emphasis on the special teams unit in recent seasons and this pick is further proof that the team is making the unit a bigger priority.

     

    Interested in reading more by this Columnist? Check out more of Aaron Dodge's work on Bleacher Report. 

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