New England Patriots: Revisiting and Grading the Draft: 2011

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Jan 18, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tackle Nate Solder (77) catches a pass from quarterback Tom Brady (12) and runs for a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts in the third quarter in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

1st Round #17 overall: offensive tackle Nate Solder

Nate Solder and the 17th overall draft pick came to New England from the 2009 trade that sent long-time defensive stalwart Richard Seymour to Oakland. Seymour’s price tag had inflated in New England while his relationship with head coach Bill Belichick seemed to be on a downward slope. As his play began to slowly slip just a bit, it was enough for New England to capitalize and get a first round pick from the perennial cellar dwellers in Oakland. Unfortunately, a one-season renaissance (8-8) for Oakland head coach Hue Jackson and quarterback Jason Campbell flipped what looked to be a top ten or top five pick to the middle of the first round.


The 2011 NFL Draft was one of the strongest drafts in recent history: other than the three teams who reached for quarterbacks early in the first round (Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, and Christian Ponder) one has to go to #23 overall where Philadelphia made the inexplicable pick of 27 year old guard Danny Watkins to find a player who was not a solid contributor (I am giving the Giants at #19 overall the benefit of the doubt with cornerback Prince Amukamara who has played well when healthy and ditto for Tampa Bay and defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn at #20 overall).


Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; New England Patriots tackle Nate Solder (77) in Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Solder was a solid pick at a position of dire need as left tackle Matt Light was close to retirement and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer struggled to stay on the field in 2011.  Solder started 13 games as a rookie and all three playoff games. He allowed just 3 sacks in the regular season as a rookie (per–Subscription required). By year two he was protecting quarterback Tom Brady’s blind side where he has been since.


After allowing just 3 sacks as a rookie, he gave up just 4 in his first season as a starter at left tackle. Although it leapt to ten sacks in 2013, he bounced back and allowed just 6 sacks this past season. In fact, his pass blocking in the Super Bowl was an overlooked component of the offense’s success. Seattle’s defensive right end Cliff Avril and just two hurries and no quarterback hits or sacks. Compare that to the prior Super Bowl where Avril and Chris Clemons ran roughshod on the Denver tackles and combined for 10 hurries, four quarterback hits, and a sack against Peyton Manning.


Solder has garnered criticism for his slow starts to seasons, and it is a legitimate concern. However, by the season’s end he is usually the most effective and consistent blocker on the offensive line. The Patriots front office thought enough of the young tackle to pick up the fifth year option on his rookie contract and fully guarantee his almost $7.5 million salary for 2015.


Sep 28, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) reacts after the Detroit Lions scored a touchdown at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports


Imagining what could have been had Oakland had the franchise’s usual four or six win season in 2010 is fascination. Von Miller (#2 overall), Marcell Dareus (#3 overall), A.J. Green (#4 overall), Patrick Peterson (#5 overall), Julio Jones (#6 overall), and Aldon Smith (#7 overall) were all taken by where most thought the Patriots would be drafting with the Raiders’ draft pick in 2011. Tyron Smith (#9 overall) was the first offensive lineman taken in the draft and at #11 overall the Houston Texans had All Pro defensive end J.J. Watt land in their laps.


After New England took Solder at #17 overall there were still a few impact players left on the draft board. San Diego got excellent value from defensive tackle Corey Liuget at #18 overall while New Orleans got Cameron Jordan at #24 overall. The best defensive lineman taken after Watt may have been defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson who the Jets stole at #31 overall. On the offensive line, Anthony Castonzo has been solid for Indianapolis after being taken at #22 overall but James Carpenter (#25 overall to Seattle) and Gabe Carimi (#29 overall to Chicago have struggled.




Solder may not have been the sexy pick, but he filled a need and has been a solid if understated component of the offense. Solder will likely command a high contract going forward and the Patriots will have a tough decision next year if they are willing to commit the cash outlay for him to stay and continue to protect Brady. But so far he has been worth it.


Next: 1st Round Continued