The NFL draft’s postmortem process can typically be chock-full of a wide-ranging scale of emotions. Some drafts are lauded, others loathed, all in the name of forming an opinion roughly three years too soon, but hey, that’s what makes it so fun.
So, let’s open it up for a string of second-guessing offerings before everyone’s vision becomes crystal clear in hindsight.
1. Should the Patriots have taken Nate Solder at No. 17 when defensive end Cameron Jordan and cornerback Prince Amukamara were still on the board?
Solder will be the Patriots’ left tackle of the future, and that’s not a bad get with the 17th pick. But he might be better off sitting for a year. Meanwhile, the Patriots could have landed Jordan, who projected to fit the system perfectly and would have been able to start right away. Amukamara was considered a top-10 talent who fell into the Giants’ laps at No. 19. If the Patriots were prepared to take a cornerback in the draft — as they did at No. 33 with Ras-I Dowling — Amukamara would have made sense with their first pick. From there, they could have taken Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi at No. 28 and potentially traded the 33rd pick for a 2012 first-rounder.
2. Should the Patriots have traded the 28th pick with the amount of talent on the board?
The Patriots’ fan base has spoken loudly about their desire to take Alabama running back Mark Ingram at No. 28, but I still don’t think that would have been the right call. Rather, the Pats could have taken Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward or Temple defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. Heyward is tenacious at the line, and Wilkerson is a physical specimen who still needs some time to develop. Instead, Heyward and Wilkerson went to the Steelers and Jets, respectively, so the Patriots will get a close look at each player’s production for years to come. Instead, the Patriots traded No. 28 for the Saints’ first-rounder in 2012 (likely in the same area) and Cal running back Shane Vereen.
3. Should the Patriots have taken Mikel Leshoure instead of Vereen at No. 56?
Leshoure was my top-ranked running back, and I thought he could turn into an every-down back with his ability to run between the tackles, burst into the second level and serve as a valuable asset in passing situations. Therefore, I don’t really understand why the Patriots let him slip past then. Vereen has good speed and will be very valuable in space, as he proved during his time in the run-and-shoot style of the Pac-10. Vereen will need to prove he can be an asset between the tackles, too, but he will serve as a good complement to the other backs in New England’s offense. He is a good character and was a team captain, so that might have given him the edge over Leshoure, who went one pick later to the Lions.
4. Should the Patriots have traded up to take Robert Quinn?
Quinn was widely considered one of the draft’s two best pass rushers, and the Patriots had no shot to take Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller, who went No. 2 to the Broncos. Quinn, though, slipped all the way to the Rams at No. 14. The Patriots’ most realistic trading partner might have been the Vikings, who shockingly took Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder and probably wouldn’t have minded trading back to No. 17. To make that move, the Patriots would have to give up the 17th pick and a third-rounder, according to the draft’s trade-value chart. Quinn could have instantly been the Patriots’ most dangerous edge rusher.
5. Should the Patriots have gambled on quarterback Ryan Mallett?
The Patriots have to think their best-case scenario with Mallett is turning him into trade bait and acquiring a first-round pick in two or three years. Otherwise, obviously, they never want him to touch the field during a meaningful game. By the time Tom Brady plays out his contract, which expires after the 2014 season, the Patriots will have to re-up on Mallett, who will likely sign a three- or four-year deal when (if) the NFL league year begins. If Mallett is still with New England at that point, it means he has erased his character concerns, and his on-field talent will be enough to entice teams to target him in free agency. It’s a big gamble for the Patriots to take.
6. Why didn’t the Patriots take any pass rushers in the second or third rounds?
I think the Patriots are higher on outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich than most people realize, and the crop of pass rushers at that point in the draft were overrated in my opinion. Still, it will come back to haunt them if Jabaal Sheard, Akeem Ayers, Brooks Reed, Da’Quan Bowers, Dontay Moch, Justin Houston or Martez Wilson really materialize.
7. What were the Patriots thinking in the seventh round?
They had one pick remaining at No. 219, and they took TCU defensive back Malcolm Williams, who had an extremely limited role on defense in college, played most of his reps on special teams and admitted he didn’t think he had a shot at getting drafted. Therefore, if he earns a spot on the roster, it will be as a special teamer, and the Patriots probably could have waited to court him in free agency.
By taking Williams, the Patriots passed on Pittsburgh pass rusher Greg Romeus (No. 226 to New Orleans), South Carolina pass rusher Cliff Matthews (No. 230 to Atlanta) and Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich (undrafted). Romeus was coming off a torn ACL, and that was the reason he dropped. Matthews’ drop was unclear, since he was a two-time captain and had been one of the SEC’s most decorated defensive players over the last two seasons. And everyone knows Herzlich’s story by now.
There are obviously very few guarantees in any seventh-round selection, but this was the Patriots’ most curious pick of the draft.