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Report Card (Patriots 2011 Draft Report): Grading The Draft Selections

Nate Solder was the Patriots first round pick Thursday, in the 2011 NFL Draft. (Photo: AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

After months of anticipation, countless draft profiles, and pointless mock drafts, the 2011 NFL Draft has come to a close. With that said, this is our last Patriots 2011 draft report, so we thought it would be a perfect time to reflect back to this weekend and play the role of professor.

Who’s knows, with the current NFL lockout situation, we may start our Patriots 2012 draft report before you know it. (hint of sarcasm; please NFL — we need football.)

One last thing to note: It takes three to four years to really grade a prospect, so by no stretch of the imagination are these grades indicative on the players’ NFL careers. If that was the case, the 2006 Patriots draft would have produced three HOFs.

Round 1 (17): Nate Solder, OT, Colorado = B +

Coming into the draft, the Patriots had holes to fill along the offensive line. They took care of one those holes with Colorado’s offensive tackle Nate Solder. Solder is similar to right tackle Sebastian Vollmer both in terms of size and ability coming out of college. Like Vollmer, Solder hasn’t played the position for all that long. Colorado recruited Solder as a tight end.

Solder stands at a mammoth 6-8, 319-pounds but does need coaching up, as they say, before he will ever see the field. The Patriots may consider re-signing Matt Light to a one or two year deal before turning the position over to Solder.

Still, solid pick. We had him going in this spot to the Patriots in our March mock, and Solder definitely fits a need.

Round 2 (33): Ros-I Dowling, CB, Virginia = B –

In what has become a norm for the Patriots, they drafted a cornerback for the third straight year before the third round. Prior to the 2011 season, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay pegged Dowling as the No. 1 cornerback in the country, ahead of Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara. However, injuries derailed Dowling’s senior campaign, as he only played in five games for Virginia.

At 6-1, Dowling is the tallest cornerback Belichick has drafted since he took over in 2000. The biggest concern for Dowling is whether or not he can stay healthy. Dowling has a history of playing injured. The last cornerback Belichick and the Patriots drafted with these same concerns was 2008 second rounder Terrence Wheatley, who was released this past season.

Dowling has all the tools and ball-hawking ability, but the injury concerns would have been enough for me to go in a different direction. I felt that the Patriots should have looked at Brandon Harris or Johnny Patrick at that spot.

With Devin McCourtey, Leigh Bodden and Kyle Arrington as the only other serviceable corners, look for Dowling to play from day one.

Round 2 (56): Shane Vereen, RB, California = B –

With two running backs on their current roster the Patriots looked to add depth in the draft. They did just that. Adding Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley. Vereen is a quick, elusive back that had to patiently wait for his turn behind Jahvid Best.

Vereen progressed every year at California, rushing for 1,167 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2010. One of Vereen’s biggest strength’s is his pass catching ability out of the backfield. The Patriots could look to use Vereen as a third down back as the future of Kevin Faulk is unknown.

With Mikel Leshoure on the board, I think the Patriots reached for Vereen. Even at the best case, Vereen will never be an everyday back.

Round 3 (73): Stevan Ridley, RB, LSU = C +

The Patriots surprised some with this selection. Stevan Ridley was a bit of a reach here. The Patriots could have gotten Ridley a round or two later, but Ridley’s still a solid pick. He won’t outrun anybody, but he is a classic workhorse. Ridley does have deceptive quickness, and is a classic one-cut and go running back.

At LSU, Ridley was the offense. LSU’s quarterback play was one of the worst in the entire nation, and it was Ridley who was a prominent reason in why LSU had a great overall season.

Ridley, Vereen and Danny Woodhead will make BenJarvus Green-Ellis expendable and a possible piece to trade for a 2012 third or fourth rounder to a team needing a back.

Round 3 (74): Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas = B +

I can assure you that nobody saw this one coming. Off-field concerns led the Arkansas quarterback to fall to the third round. There wasn’t a quarterback in this draft that is more NFL ready than Ryan Mallett, which makes this pick even more interesting. With Brady turning 34 by next season, the drafting of his future successor does seem like a good move.

But, can Mallett overcome his off-the-field issues? On a personal note, I can say that watching Mallett in the SEC over the last two years that he’s heading up the right path if he keeps his head on straight.

Like I mentioned in a different article, is this Kevin O’Connell Part II, or the next Aaron Rodgers?

Round 5 (138): Marcus Cannon, OG, TCU = A

With their first fifth round pick, the Patriots landed the steal of the 2011 NFL Draft. Marcus Cannon’s draft stock took a hit in the week leading up to the draft when it was revealed that Cannon had a treatable form of lymphoma cancer. Prior to the report, Cannon was regarded as the third best offensive guard prospect in the NFL draft, behind Mike Pouncey and Danny Watkins.

Cannon’s versatility seems to be one of the reasons why New England drafted the TCU product. Cannon, who played tackle at TCU, can play either of the tackle and guard positions. In New England, look for Cannon to play right guard, a spot formerly held by Stephen Neal.

Cannon was a three year starter for the Horned Frogs, and has drawn comparisons to New Orleans guard Carl Nicks.

Round 5 (159): Lee Smith, TE, Marshall = C –

Another tight end. Lee Smith isn’t the best receiver and he’s not the best blocker. Smith really doesn’t do anything great, but he can contribute in both categories. With Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Alge Crumpler, I didn’t see a need for another tight end.

But, does this selection mean Crumpler is on his way out?

Round 6 (194): Markell Carter, OLB, Central Arkansas = C –

It took the Patriots six rounds, but they finally looked toward the outside linebacker position. The Patriots had chances in both the first and second rounds to draft Arizona’s Brooks Reed, but decided to pass on the potential Clay Matthews clone.

Carter has good size at 6-3, 250, but it’s unlikely that he will contribute for New England. If we can learn anything from this pick, it’s that Bill Belichick and co. really value Rob Ninkovich and Jermaine Cunningham.

Round 7 (219): Malcolm Williams, DB, TCU = C

We know how much the Patriots value special teams. With their seventh round pick, New England went down that route. This pick reminds me a lot of the Matthew Slater choice in 2008. If he makes the team, Williams main contribution will be on special teams.

Overall Grade = B –

Follow me on Twitter: @M_Marcantonio

About Matthew Marcantonio - @M_Marcantonio

Matthew Marcantonio is the Patriots and college football editor at Sports of Boston. Marcantonio has contributed for two newspapers; the Sentinel & Enterprise (Leominster, Mass) and The Advocate (Baton Rouge, La) and held internships with The Bleacher Report and Sports Illustrated.

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