It doesn't sound like the Patriots got a heavy approval rating in the draft from the fan base, but they did add some real talent and took advantage of some value picks. Nate Solder (development), Ras-I Dowling (injuries last year), Ryan Mallett (character concerns) and Marcus Cannon (health) all slipped for their own respective reasons. With a little patience, this class should yield beneficial results over the next few years.
First round, No. 17 overall: Colorado tackle Nate Solder
Second round, No. 33 overall: Virginia cornerback Ras-I Dowling
Second round, No. 56 overall: California running back Shane Vereen
Third round, No. 73 overall: LSU running back Stevan Ridley
Third round, No. 74 overall: Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett
Fifth round, No. 138 overall: TCU offensive lineman Marcus Cannon
Fifth round, No. 159 overall: Marshall tight end Lee Smith
Sixth round, No. 194 overall: Central Arkansas defensive end/outside linebacker Markell Carter
Seventh round, No. 219 overall: TCU defensive back Malcolm Williams
It should be Solder, but it could turn into Dowling, Ridley or Mallett, though the quarterback would most likely reach his potential in another system. Solder will be the Patriots' left tackle of the future, whether that reign begins in 2011 or later. At 6-foot-8 and 319 pounds, he's got ideal size for the position, and he's athletic enough to handle the speed rushers who line up on the quarterback's blind side.
There isn't a clear-cut starter in the group. Solder's status will be determined by Matt Light. Dowling will provide depth at cornerback behind Devin McCourty and Leigh Bodden. Vereen and Ridley will join BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead in the running back rotation, and carries will be determined by the hot hand. And Cannon's status will first be determined by his health and then a competition on the line. Bill Belichick wouldn't say whether or not Cannon — who has played three seasons at right tackle and one at left tackle — will play at guard or tackle, but the more immediate need will be at guard. Mallett, Smith, Carter and Williams will provide depth if they make the team.
Belichick had his eye on the future in this draft, and he set himself up with some good players throughout the draft, rather than reaching to plug an immediate need in the front seven, which could be addressed through free agency. Solder and Cannon will add 13 feet and nearly 700 pounds to the offensive line for years to come, and the two running backs are talented players who should add a solid element to the offense. Dowling, eventually, could pair with McCourty as the team's starting cornerbacks, and they have a similar playing style.
NESN.com's Jeff Howe will look at each AFC East team's draft over the next four days.
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