|New England Patriots 2011 NFL Draft Review|
|By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor|
1 - Nate Solder, OT, Colorado (6-8, 319);
2 - Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia (6-1, 198);
2 - Shane Vereen, RB, California (5-10, 202);
3 - Stevan Ridley, RB, LSU (5-11, 225);
3 - Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas (6-7, 253);
5 - Marcus Cannon, OT, TCU (6-5, 358);
5 - Lee Smith, TE, Marshall (6-6, 266);
6 - Markell Carter, OLB, Central Arkansas (6-4, 252);
7 - Malcolm Williams, S, TCU (5-10, 204)
Top Pick Analysis: Solder, a converted tight end at Colorado with excellent length and agility, could very well be a Week 1 starter at left tackle if he gains a little strength. His addition likely means the end of free-agent Matt Light's stay in Foxborough. Dowling had injury issues during his senior season in college, but with his combination of size, 4.4 speed and impressive instincts, it can be argued that's he's an even better prospect than new teammate Devin McCourty, a first-rounder last year who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie. The two running backs offer contrasting styles, with Vereen a dangerous open-field runner and receiver in the Kevin Faulk mold and Ridley a physical north-south runner who could wind up as a short-yardage specialist. The Pats ended the second day with the surprise selection of the polarizing Mallett, who owns a big-time arm and is well-versed in a pro-style offense, but slid into the third round because of maturity questions.
Best Value Pick: Getting Mallett with the 74th overall selection was a worthwhile move, but Cannon could turn out to be the biggest steal in the draft. The massive tackle was a consensus second-round talent before being diagnosed with lymphoma shortly before the draft, though he's expected to make a full recovery.
We Question Why: The Patriots used two early-round picks to add to a crowded running-back cast. Pressuring the quarterback was a problem last year, yet New England didn't take a pass rusher until nabbing small-school project Carter in the sixth round.
Summary: A tough one to grade. New England did bring in two possible high-end starters in Solder and Dowling, while Mallett and Cannon were both outstanding picks. However, finding reinforcements to the front seven of the defense may have been a better avenue to take than going back-to-back on complementary running backs on the second day.
Final Grade: B