Analysis of the 2011 NFL Draft is just heating up around the NFL, and with the selection of QB Ryan Mallet, much of the talk involves the Patriots. As I discussed yesterday with loads of examples, opinions as to how the Patriots drafted and what grade they should earn ran the gamut of really high (A+) to really low (D). As is the case with every draft, you just never know how well a team drafted until the players step onto the field in an NFL game. I certainly had some egg on my face this past year as I was really pulling for an outside pass rusher (sound familiar?), but the Pats drafted CB Devin McCourty (I did dance a jig though when they drafted Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Spikes). McCourty proved all the naysayers wrong and I dare any Pats fan to try and argue that the Patriots should not have drafted him. Be that as it may, I’m going to go ahead and give my analysis/opinion on what I liked and did not like about the Patriots’ draft. Whether I’m right or wrong will become evident as the 2011 NFL season progresses (hopefully). Here goes nothing…
- I absolutely loved what the Pats did in the first round. There wasn’t much wrong the Pats could do 17th overall, unless they grabbed a QB there. The selection of OT Nate Solder provides Tom Brady some longterm protection and gives the Pats a pair of huge offensive tackles (Solder is 6’8″, 319 lbs, Sebastian Vollmer is 6’8″, 315 lbs). The Pats have an eye for offensive line talent, selecting them at various spots in the draft, and hit more often than they miss. If the Pats thought Solder was worthy of 17th overall, he must really be something. The trade of the 28th overall pick was a huge value victory for the Pats. The Pats received the Saints’ 2011 2nd round pick (56 overall) and their 2012 1st rounder. Using the Draft Value Chart, even if the Saints win the Super Bowl and the Pats get the last pick of the first round (590 points), they come out ahead by 270 points, factoring in the Saints’ 2011 second-round pick (340 points).
- The selection of Cal RB Shane Vereen seems like a solid pick. There were other backs that were rated higher on others’ draft boards, but Vereen’s profile seems to best fit what the Patriots like in a RB. He’s tough, a good pass protector, and can catch the ball out of the backfield. He seems like the anti-Maroney.
- The trade of the Patriots’ third- and fourth-round picks to the Oakland Raiders for the Raiders’ 2012 second-round pick fits the profile of what Belichick loves to do: if there’s nobody that he finds value with at a particular spot, he finds a willing trade partner to set himself up with extra picks the following year. This allows the Patriots to have the flexibility to dart around the board as much as they do on draft day.
- Finding a first/second-round talent in the fifth round is a tremendous feat, and the Pats accomplished that by selecting TCU OL Marcus Cannon. Cannon was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and by most accounts will make a full recovery. He provides the Pats with a guard for the future if he can’t play this season with the talent of high draft pick.
- This is not an indictment of the player himself, but I think the Patriots could have gotten LSU RB Stevan Ridley later on in the draft. Instead, then spent the ninth pick of the third round on the power back. Ridley will likely give the Patriots more of a power presence at RB, but I don’t think that the value was there at that particular spot.
- As Mike Reiss points out, the Patriots came up short value-wise in their trading of a second-round pick for the Texans’ third- and fifth-round picks. One has to figure that the Pats must have felt there was absolutely nobody worthy of being picked in that spot to make the trade. On the bright side, they did turn the third-rounder they picked up here into the 2012 second-round pick mentioned above. Still, evaluating this trade alone, the Pats came up short.
- The selection of Texas Christian DB Malcolm Williams absolutely ended the draft on a sour note for me. Allow me to put my sentiments into the proper context. Sitting around still at this point in the draft was Boston College LB Mark Herzlich, a cancer survivor who amazingly came back to play his senior season. As one would expect, he didn’t play as well as he did prior to having cancer, but pre-cancer he was a first-round caliber prospect. If the Pats drafted someone who had good college production here, that would be somewhat reasonable to me. However, Williams was not a starter in college and had a total of 12 tackles (12!) this past season. At this point in the draft, if you’re gonna take a flyer on somebody, why not take a flyer on high-character guy who just so happens to play a position of need? If he makes a full recovery and returns to his former level of play, you easily have the steal of the draft. If he doesn’t, so be it. What is Michael Williams’ upside? Let me put it in another way: if the Patriots can take a flyer on a kid with lots of bad character issues (see below), and everyone says if it doesn’t work no big deal, why can’t they take a flyer on a great kid? I truly hope the Pats sign Herzlich as a rookie free agent once that option becomes available.
On the fence…
- Ras-I Dowling by all accounts is a top-level corner who just had injury issues this past season. The Pats passed on pass rushers Brooks Reed and Jabaal Sheard to select Dowling with the first pick of Round Two. Mike Reiss makes a good case for the idea that the Pats’ draft will likely be judged on Dowling’s development. If he doesn’t prove to be a valuable corner and Reed and/or Sheard develop into quality pass rushers, it’ll be hard to justify this selection or the strategy the Pats took in the draft as a whole.
- QB Ryan Mallet. I just can’t seem to settle on a strong opinion either way with this pick. If Mallet is not an off-field issue and can develop into valuable trade bait or Tom Brady’s successor, then this is a tremendous pick. A HUGE pick. Otherwise, it’s a waste. Now, popular opinion says that if it doesn’t work, no harm no foul. However, if a lot of resources are put into Mallet and they get nothing but headaches from the kid, it’s a pretty poor pick considering the team needed so much help in the front seven of the defense.
- The lack of drafting a pass rusher has me on the fence. With free agency still to come, the possibility that Belichick adds an impact player here isn’t out of the realm of possibility yet. He has extra draft picks as well now to play with should he try and make a trade for a veteran linebacker. Belichickian history suggests that he will look to the veterans in free agency for help at OLB (Rosevelt Colvin, Chad Brown, Adalius Thomas), but if Brooks Reed or Jabaal Sheard remind everyone that Belichick passed on Clay Matthews, then not grabbing one of those two will turn out to be a huge mistake.
Taking all things into account, I’m going to give the Patriots a B- as a final draft grade. Now, I must say, part of that is taking Bill Belichick’s history for turning head-scratchers into genius decisions into account. I was originally thinking C/C+, but you have to give The Hooded One the benefit of the doubt. My grade is based on who they drafted, where they drafted them, and the trades they made.
How far off am I?