NFL Draft 2011: Reviewing the New England Patriots' Incoming Rookies
It has been nearly three months since the 2011 NFL Draft, and the New England Patriots selected nine players this year: two defensive backs, a pair of running backs, two offensive linemen, a linebacker, a tight end and a quarterback.
Considering the amount of time that has passed and the fact that the NFL lockout has dominated the headlines, some of us may need a refresher on the new crop of players who will (hopefully) be reporting to camp.
Let's take this opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with the Patriots' 2011 draftees, shall we?
Nate Solder, OT (Colorado)
First Round, No. 17 Overall
Heading into the 2011 season, one of the Patriots’ biggest needs is depth at the offensive line.
longtime Patriots right guard, Stephen Neal retired this offseason, and the futures of players such as left tackle Matt Light, left guard Logan Mankins, and right tackle Nick Kaczur are still uncertain due to the lockout.
As a result, New England used its first overall pick in the draft on offensive tackle Nate Solder out of Colorado. During his college career, Solder has been described as athletic with above-average agility for his size.
If Matt Light does not return to New England, expect Solder to get the majority of his playing time at right tackle with Sebastian Vollmer manning Brady’s blindside.
Ras-I Dowling, DB (Virginia)
Second Round, No. 33 Overall
The average age of the Patriots' defense was nearly 27 years old in 2009. That is almost a full three-year difference from the previous season when veterans such as Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel were still around. Since then the defense has featured names like Devin McCourty, Jerod Mayo, Patrick Chung, Brandon Spikes, Leigh Bodden and so on.
The trend of young defensive playmakers will continue since the Pats used their first pick in the second round on Virginia defensive back Ras-I Dowling.
Dowling has an excellent combination of size and speed. He is a physical player who can effectively play zone and man coverage. His stock slipped slightly due to several injuries he incurred during his college career, but if Dowling can stay healthy, he has the potential to be an impact corner for New England.
Since McCourty and Bodden will likely be the starting cornerbacks, Dowling will battle Darius Butler, Kyle Arrington and Jonathan Wilhite for positioning on the depth chart. He will get most of his early playing time during nickel and dime packages.
Shane Vereen, RB (California)
Second Round, No. 56 Overall
New England’s third-biggest need (behind a pass-rush and strengthening the OL) going into next season was a revamped running back corps, and that’s exactly what the Patriots did.
The team had two healthy running backs for the duration of the 2010 season in Ben-Jarvus Green Ellis and Danny Woodhead. Veterans Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris saw limited playing time, and Patriot cornerstone, Kevin Faulk, sustained a season-ending injury in Week 2 of the season.
In 2009, the Patriots used a rotating cast of Laurence Maroney, Taylor and Morris in the backfield, with Faulk and Green-Ellis getting snaps everywhere in between.
Next year’s running game should shape up the same way with rookie Shane Vereen out of California.
While not known for his speed, Vereen is quick enough to beat defenders by bouncing to the outside. He is also a very good runner up the middle with the agility and ability to quickly change direction and find holes.
Vereen is also a threat to receive passes in the flat and other screen plays. Like Kevin Faulk, Vereen is a good receiver who can give Tom Brady another target in third-down situations.
Stevan Ridley, RB (LSU)
Third Round, No. 73 Overall
For the same reasons the Patriots drafted Shane Vereen, New England used their very next pick to select another running back.
With their first pick in the third round, New England selected Stevan Ridley out of LSU. Ridley’s biggest knock is his lack of speed, clocking a 4.66 on the 40-yard dash at the combine in Indianapolis.
His biggest values are his power and his ability to be an extra blocker. We may also see Belichick use Ridley in third-and-short situations, as well as at the goal line.
Ryan Mallett, QB (Arkansas)
Third Round, No. 74 Overall
As outlandish as this statement may seem to Patriots fans, Tom Brady will one day hang up the cleats.
This is why Bill Belichick selected Ryan Mallett with the 10th pick in the third round. While he still needs to develop some of his skills, such as accuracy and ability to read defenses, Mallett has a lot of potential. He will add depth at QB and will benefit from playing behind an all-time great.
Marcus Cannon, OL (TCU)
Fifth Round, No. 138 Overall
As mentioned earlier with Nate Solder, the Pats needed to add depth to their offensive line, and they continued to do so by selecting Marcus Cannon out of TCU.
Cannon played every game in 2009 and did not allow a single sack. He is versatile and can play both tackle positions. Cannon was projected to be drafted in the second or third round, so he could be considered a steal at the 138th overall pick.
Lee Smith, TE (Marshall)
Fifth Round, No. 159 Overall
Bill Belichick selected Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the 2010 NFL Draft, and both made an instant impact offensively.
This year he drafted another tight end out of Marshall named Lee Smith.
Rated by ESPN as the eighth-best tight end in the draft, Smith made a name for himself at Marshall, being named a captain in his final two years. He has a big frame and has been noticed by several scouts for his ability to block, as well as a solid option to receive short passes.
In his junior and senior years, Smith combined for 60 receptions and 678 yards. He is a low-risk, high-reward type of pick and could potentially become a significant member of the New England offense.
Markell Carter, LB (Central Arkansas)
Sixth Round, No. 194
The New England Patriots’ most glaring need going into last offseason was improving the pass-rush. They lost Ty Warren before the start of the 2010-2011 season and never fully recovered.
Markell Carter is an outside linebacker who has strictly played in a 3-4 defense. He is a solid pass-rusher who can actively disrupt a quarterback in the pocket.
Carter is relatively fast, nimble and can get around slower offensive tackles.
Malcolm Williams, DB (TCU)
Seventh Round, No. 219 Overall
With their final pick, 219th overall, the Patriots selected Malcolm Williams, a defensive back out of TCU.
If Williams makes the final roster, he will most likely spend most of his playing time on special teams. If an injury occurs to any of the other members of the secondary, Williams may move up the depth chart on defense.