With the 2011 NFL Draft over, draft experts have shifted from “mock draft mode” to “draft grade mode,” and the grades for the New England Patriots vary tremendously. Grades for the Patriots’ draft range from ‘A+’ to ‘D’, quite a difference in opinion. The common theme among every grade, even the high grades, is that the Patriots failed to address the need at pass rush despite have two picks in each of the first three rounds. Where the difference in letter grade seems to come is whether the grader looked at the actual picks the Pats made themselves, or the needs that the Patriots addressed. Analysis that focuses on addressing needs tend to be graded lower while analysis focusing on the actual picks and trades made tend to be graded higher. Let’s take a look at a varied collection of draft grades on the Patriots’ 2011 draft, from best to worst.
Clifton Brown from the Sporting News gives the Patriots an ‘A+‘:
No pass rusher, but a slew of talented players led by Nate Solder, Ras-I Dowling, Shane Vereen and Ryan Mallett. Plus they have two picks next year in both the first and second rounds.
Bucky Brooks from NFL.com gives the Pats an ‘A‘, noting that Nate Solder, Ras-I Dowling, and Ryan Mallet were the Patriots key picks:
Bill Belichick is masterful at manipulating the draft to address needs, while also adding picks for the future. This year, he continued to follow that strategy as he moved up and down to land three first-round talents: Nate Solder, Ryan Mallett and Marcus Cannon. The Mallett pick, in particular, could pay off handsomely down the road considering his potential as a pure pocket passer. Cornerback Ras-I Dowling is another intriguing prospect with the skills to outplay his draft status. After producing another stellar draft class, it appears that the rich continue to get richer in New England.
Charley Casserly discussed the Patriots’ draft with Mike Mayock and Charles Davis and called the Pats the top winners of the draft, and you can view a video of that HERE. Casserly notes the Patriots’ ability to now pound the ball with the additions along the offensive line and running backs Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, which adds a new dynamic to their already tops offense.
Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston takes a different tact in grading the Patriots’ draft. Instead of an all-around grade, he grades each move the Pats made, whether it be picking a player or making a trade. The Patriots’ first-round pick, Colorado OT Nate Solder, gets a grade of ‘B‘. The highest grade, an ‘A+‘, goes to the trade with the Raiders, where the Pats gave up a 3rd and 4th round pick and gained the Raiders’ 2nd round pick in 2012. The lowest grade, a ‘C-‘, goes to the Patriots’ trade with the Houston Texans. The Pats gave up their 60th overall pick (2nd rounder) and gained the Texans’ 3rd and 5th rounder. Reiss notes that according to the Draft Value Chart, the Pats came up short value-wise in this trade.
Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com gives the Pats a ‘B‘. He notes that the Pats’ best pick was CB Ras-I Dowling 33rd overall, their most questionable pick was RB Shane Vereen in the 2nd round, and their third-day gem was OL Marcus Cannon, who was drafted in the 5th round.
Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports grades the Patriots’ draft as a ‘C+‘:
There’s no real problem with any of the players the Patriots drafted. Even QB Ryan Mallet, who generated all sort of odd reactions from NFL coaches and executives, was a good value pick in the third round. Beyond that, trading out from the second of two first-round picks got the Patriots another first-rounder in 2012. However, there’s something somewhat illogical about what the Patriots did this year, particularly after taking 12 players in each of the previous two drafts. Taking nine players this year just means that the Patriots are going to have to cut a lot of those guys. Moreover, the Patriots didn’t take a front-seven defensive player until the sixth round, when they took project Carter. This is a team that needed help in the pass rush to improve what has been a mundane defense in the past few years.
Kerry J. Byrne of SI.com and Cold Hard Football Facts gives the Patriots a ‘C-‘. Byrne likes the selection of OT Nate Solder the most of the Patriots’ draft, while also noting that he didn’t like the fact that the Pats ignored the need at pass rush. He says that the Patriots will not win another Super Bowl until they improve their anemic pass rush.
Adam Caplan of FOXSports.com has the lowest grade of the Patriots’ draft that I came across. He gave the Patriots a ‘D‘. Here’s what he had to say (care to guess why he has them graded so low?):
Sure, Solder will fill a need, but the Patriots failed to address their poor pass rush at all during the draft. Did they really need another cornerback? All the cornerbacks in the world won’t help unless the pass rush up front is getting to the quarterback.
Harping on the need of a pass rush, and the Patriots’ failure to address it in the draft, Adam Caplan adds this in an article which details team needs post-draft:
The Patriots didn’t have a player with more than 5.5 sacks last season and struggled to get offenses off the field on third down. But even though they entered the draft with six picks in the first three rounds and this was supposed to be one of the best defensive end drafts ever, they didn’t take any pass rushers in the early rounds. Now they’ll have to find someone who can get after the quarterback in free agency.
Stay tuned to Musket Fire throughout the week for more draft coverage and analysis, including features on the players that were drafted. Until free agency starts and/or a new labor agreement, this is what we’ve got to talk about in preparation for next season.