In this post, I will give a short scouting report of each player that the Patriots picked in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Rd 1, 17 Nate Solder, OT Colorado
It seems that ever since the Pats selected Nate Solder with the 17th overall pick in the draft, experts thoughts on the former Colorado left tackle are improving by the day. First thoughts were that Solder was a solid offensive tackle with good athleticism, but he was a project type player. Now it seems that Solder is being tagged as a franchise left tackle that can replace Matt Light immediately. In my opinion, Solder should be a good fit with the Pats do solely to the combination of his athleticism and size, but I’m always leary that rookies won’t be able to step into New England’s complex schemes right away. Solder’s development certainly isn’t helped every day that the lockout progresses.
Rd 2, 33 Ras-I Dowling, CB Virginia
Ras-I Dowling was one of my top prospects heading into the 2010 NFL Draft. After deciding to return to Virginia for the 2010 season, Dowling’s draft prospects figured to be on the rise. A combination of hamstring, ankle, and knee injuries had pro scouts worried about Dowling’s ability to stay healthy. Even with those concerns, at 6’2”, 200 lbs, Dowling has the potential to be a steal at pick #33 for the Pats. Dowling ran a 4.4 40 yard dash at the combine even after pulling up lame because he tweaked his hamstring. If the Pats hit on Dowling, their cornerback tandem could be amongst the best in the NFL for years to come.
Rd 2, 56 Shane Vereen, RB Cal
At 5’10”, 210 lbs, Vereen has the bulk to rush between the tackles in the NFL, and with 4.5 speed he has shown the burst needed to run around defenders as well. Vereen was one of my favorite running back prospects heading into the 2011 draft simply because everything that you read about this guy revolves around his dedication to the game. Vereen has shown the ability to be shifty between the tackles, quick enough to run outside of the tackles, and he has nice hands in the passing game. Vereen should be a good fit for the Patriots system, and can possibly play a Kevin-Faulk-like role immediately in 2011.
Rd 3, 73 Stevan Ridley, RB LSU
There is no doubt that Stevan Ridley won’t be outrunning many NFL defenders, but at 5’11”, 225 lbs he is better suited to simply run them over. To use a bad analogy, if the two Patriots running backs were to be classified simply, Vereen would be lighting and Ridley would be thunder. Ridley had a very successful season in 2010 at LSU, but questions about his speed had him slipping down NFL draft boards. Although many believe that the Pats reached for Ridley, when Bill Belichick and co. could have replaced Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris on back to back picks, I think the coach might know what he is doing.
Rd 3, 74 Ryan Mallett, QB Arkansas
Although the reasoning behind the Ryan Mallett pick is currently unknown, and very well may never be known, I completely agree with the selection. As Mike Reiss explained on ESPNBoston.com, there comes a point in the draft where there is a player remaining that is so much higher on your draft board in comparison to what pick you have that selecting the player is simply the smart option. I believe that is what happened with Ryan Mallett. To be completely honest, Ryan Mallett needs to learn how to be a pro and conduct himself in a professional manner. In that case, there are few better people to learn from than Tom Brady. I believe that Mallett will be used as a chip to deal for picks in the future (similarly to Matt Cassel), but you never know what Belichick is up to.
Rd 5, 138 Marcus Cannon, OT TCU
In my opinion, Marcus Cannon was the best pick that the Patriots made in the 2011 Draft. Cannon has first round talent and size (6’5”, 360 lbs), but his recent diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma was a huge blow to his draft stock. Although a major red flag, the Patriots still selected Cannon in the 5th round because of his size, athleticism, and high hopes that after a couple months of chemotherapy, Cannon will be ready to start training and returning to football shape. Cannon has the ability to play both guard and tackle, and his size alone is enough to plug holes along the offensive front. Cannon was described as one of the best athletes on TCU’s team, and if he can regain his pre-cancer form, Cannon has the potential to be a staple along the Pats offensive line for several years.
Rd 5, 159 Lee Smith, TE Marshall
Lee Smith is considered to be one of the best run blocking tight ends in the 2011 NFL Draft, if not the best. At 6’6”, 266 lbs, Smith’s body has him ready to contribute immediately in the NFL. Some experts even believe that having Smith gain 30 lbs could be a good option as he could be a solid tackle in the league. Even with all of the attention paid to Smith’s blocking ability, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly stated that Smith was Marshall’s best offensive player in 2010. Smith is considered to be Alge Crumpler’s eventual replacement, and depending on how quickly he can adjust to an NFL playbook, that could happen sooner rather than later.
Rd 6, 194 Markell Carter, DE Central Arkansas
Markell Carter is a project to say the least. At 6’4”, 255 lbs, Carter has the size that the Pats covet at the 3-4 OLB position, but the strength is not there yet (17 reps of 225 lbs). Carter will undergo a big learning curve while trying to make the transition from D-1AA to the NFL. That being said, Carter has an instinctual ability to get to the quarterback, and get there fast. Simply putting on a highlight film of Carter playing against Tulsa (one of the better mid-major D-1A football teams) shows that he has the ability to compete against good talent. Although a year or two on the practice squad might be ahead for Carter, with some coaching and time in the weight room, his potential could be reached.
Rd 7, 219 Malcolm Williams, DB TCU
Malcolm Williams is considered by most to simply be a special teams prospect, but his workout numbers are impressive. Although not overly big (5’10”, 205 lbs), Williams is big enough to bump wideouts off of the line, strong enough to throw them off of their routes (16 reps at 225 lbs), and fast enough to run with them down the field (4.47 40 yard dash). Williams played both safety and corner at TCU, and his versatility (similar to that of Ras-I Dowling who played safety and corner at Virginia) could be useful for the Patriots. Similarly to Markell Carter, Williams could use some seasoning on the practice squad, but the prospects of him making the 53-man roster in 2011 are higher than Carter’s.
The Patriots were able to pick up a 2012 first round pick from the New Orleans Saints and a 2012 second round pick from the Oakland Raiders through draft day trades…but as I mentioned in a previous post, is it really considered stock piling if they continually trade the picks?