The 2011 NFL draft is in the history books. Everybody and their uncle have dissected each team, their picks and trades, and handed out grades. Teams like the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns, and Cincinnati Bengals have been declared winners. While teams like the Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings, and New England Patriots have been deemed losers. Wow. A practice has not been held, a down not yet played and we already know how this draft should be evaluated.
Now I will be the first one to admit that I was disappointed, particularly as I watched the first round. The Pats were sitting pretty with two selections. They would easily be able to move up if there was a player that they were enamored with, or they should be able to grab two premium players with the potential to make last year’s 14 win team even better.
I was watching, hoping that Bill Belichick would select a pass rusher, someone like Cameron Jordan, to get after the quarterback. We know that the Pats have not had much success pressuring the QB since they made the decision to ship Richard Seymour to the Oakland Raiders. Now, with the pick that they received for Seymour, they could select his replacement. Instead Belichick threw everyone a curve, selecting offensive tackle Nate Solder out of Colorado.
At first I was angry. I did not see the need to draft a tackle especially when there were other needs were more pressing. But after further reflection, my anger subsided and I felt okay with this pick. Why? After quarterback, the left tackle is the most important position on a football team. Protecting Tom Brady is job number one, especially with Brady’s lack of mobility and age.
Thanks to the lockout, everything is in a state of flux. Free agents are in limbo. Who knows if the Pats will be able to retain the services of Matt Light? Who knows if they want to? One thing is for sure, Matt Light ain’t getting any younger. Drafting Solder provides insurance if something happens and Light ends up walking. Ideally, I don’t think the Pats want to start Solder just yet. But I don’t think he is quite the project others are saying either.
Dante Scarnecchia is one of the best in the business at coaching the offensive line. If anyone can get Solder ready, it is Scarnecchia. I understand the disappointment in not seeing a defensive end/outside linebacker drafted. But lets not let our disappointment bleed over into our judgment of Solder. This kid can play.
At 6-8, 319lbs, this guy is a monster! He was an first-team All-American in 2010. He was also a finalist for the Outland Trophy, which honors the top offensive lineman in the nation. He is a converted tight end, demonstrating that he has good athletic ability as well. He was also voted a captain, demonstrating he is not only talented, but a leader.
This guy looks like a Patriot. He has the potential to be a very good player for a lot of years. Even more importantly, he looks like he has what it takes to keep #12 healthy and happy in the pocket for a lot of years. It may not have been a popular pick, but it was a good one.