2011 NFL Draft Winners: New England Patriots

The Patriots, as always under Bill Belicheck, had a real good draft. They got some impact players for now, some quality developmental projects, and of course some future draft picks. I’m not about to give their draft a letter grade, it’s much too early for that, but I will say that their 2011 draft class looks to be a winning one.

In the 1st round the Pats picked up the one offensive tackle in the entire draft that I think can become elite. Unfortunately he also has a bit of the bust factor in him. Nate Solder is a high ceiling low floor type of player.  If he maxes out his potential he has the size and athleticism to be a Pro Bowl left tackle. The fact that Belicheck believes in him says something, he is an incredible judge of talent.

Ras-I Dowling could have been a 1st rounder had it not been for some injuries his senior year. Getting a big physical corner back with good speed in the 2nd round is a great value pick. He’ll get some quality playing time as a rookie.

After passing on a chance to pick up running back Mark Ingram at the tail end of the 1st (they traded out of the pick to pick up a #1 next year), they went with a runner in the 2nd round. Cal’s Shane Vereen will fit right into New England’s running back by committee backfield. He’s a versatile player that could line up at receiver, and that’s something the Patriots will utilize.

Then in typical Patriots fashion they add another runner to the mix in the 3rd by selecting Stevan Ridley.  Ridley is a tough in between the tackles back that will compliment Vereen.

With the very next pick they pick up Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett.  Mallett has 1st round talent, however his character concerns scream 5th round, so getting him the 3rd makes perfect sense.  Going to a strong locker room could be exactly what Mallett needs.

In the 5th round they took yet another kid with 1st round talent.  Offensive lineman Marcus Cannon was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a treatable form of cancer.  The success rate for kicking his cancer is about 90%.  Cannon may not play in 2011, but once he beats cancer and regains his form, he’ll be a starter for the Pats.

Getting blocking tight end Lee Smith in the 5th was a solid move.  The Pats already have two quality pass catching tight ends on the roster in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, so Smith fills a need.

Their 6th and 7th round picks are projects that could add some depth.  Central Arkansas defensive end Markell Carter (6th round) projects to play OLB for the Pats, he’s an explosive athlete with upside that could surprise.  Defensive back Malcom Williams has good athleticism and will compete for a spot on special teams as a rookie.

I’ve already checked out the good drafts of the Indianapolis Colts, the New Orleans Saints, and the Houston Texans.  Click the link to see those.