There's a ton to digest after the Patriots busy night on Friday. Here's the Foxboro Blog crew's take on Rounds 2 and 3 of the draft.
On the Patriots not addressing their pass-rush need:
Jason: I have a feeling some my cohorts are going to express some serious displeasure regarding the lack of pass-rushers, but I am probably less upset than most. I hoped the Pats would upgrade the front 7, but I think the New England braintrust felt that none of the rookies that were available in the second and third round were a true upgrade.
Stephen: When the Patriots took Nate Solder at 17 on Friday, I was skeptical. One night later, I'm pissed. For a team that is continually mentioned as one of the best drafters, today's haul in the second- and third-rounds was quite strange. I don't really buy the argument that Sheard/Reed or anyone at 33 would be a bad pick as the 9th/10th best player compared to a top corner. A lot of people keep emphasizing how the Patriots draft for "need" ie. Solder at 17, so then why can't they address their biggest need at 33 even if the value doesn't match up perfectly?
Maybe I'm totally wrong and Solder locks down the left side, Vereen and Ridley form the perfect combo with Woodhead, and Mallet turns into...something, but right now I can't be too happy that a defensive-needy team only took one player, a corner at that, when they had six of the first 92 picks in this draft.
Derek: I don't think that Belichick intentionally avoided adding to the DE/OLB corps, I think the draft just unfolded in a way where he felt there was more value in making other selections. I think prime targets for the Pats who could have possibly slipped to the Patriots were J.J. Watt and Aldon Smith, but they weren't available. Cameron Jordan was there at #17, but I had questions myself about how well he fit the Patriots. Clearly other teams had concerns as well as he fell all the way to #24, and even Adrian Clayborn was selected ahead of him. Sometimes the "experts" just don't have as good of a read on players as the teams do. I think that was the case with Jordan.
To counter Stephen's argument, I don't think Solder was a reach or that the Pats were drafting purely for need when they picked him. Rumors are that the Giants would have had him at #19 if the Pats didn't take him, so it appears other teams were high on him as well. Wilkerson or Heyward would have been good selections at #28, but I think the Saints trade offer was viewed as better value. Same likley goes with Dowling at #33 over Sheard/Reed. By the time #56 rolled around, I think the Patriots were past the point where any DE or OLB taken would have made a huge impact. Keep in mind, there's always free-agency.
Rick: I should probably be more angry at the Patriots for not taking a pass rusher in the first three rounds, but I surprisingly still have my sense of optimism about most of the Day 2 Picks. I think Belichick wants to let the young kids like a Jermaine Cunningham, Rob Ninkovich, or even a Dane Fletcher develop for another year. If that does not work out, well the Patriots will have 2 first rounders and 2 second rounders in the 2012 draft. They built for the future, but I look for a smart owner like Robert Kraft to be aggressive in free agency.
On the #33 selelction, CB Ras-I Dowling:
Rick: At pick 33, Reed and Sheard were on the board, but they went with the cornerback Dowling from Virginia. A lot of the draft experts had him at a first round grade, but injuries plagued his senior year. He is a solid cover corner, and has outstanding speed, with a 4.4 40 yard dash time. If he can stay healthy, him, McCourty, Bodden, and even Kyle Arrington can make a solid cornerback unit for this team. If you have really good cornerbacks, the pass rush problems will not be as big of a deal.
Jason: I've been high on Dowling for weeks, projecting him to the Patriots not once, but twice in our second-round mock drafts. He's got great height and athleticism for a corner. If not for an injury midway through the 2010 season, I think he could've been considered the second- or third-best corner in the draft. I like what he'll bring to the team.
Stephen: With Jabaal Sheard, Brooks Reed and even Akeem Ayers sitting there at 33, Belichick opted to take yet another early-round corner (where he has had a poor track record) in Virginia's Ras-I Dowling.While I do like his size/speed combo, Dowling simply wasn't as important as filling the pass-rush need. However, I can live with the pick based on his upside and the potentially lethal duo of him and Devin McCourty.Derek: Heading into last night, I was expecting Sheard, Reed, or Ayers to be the #33 pick. Apparently Belichick felt Dowling would be a better overall player, and it's not too difficult to see why as many felt he was a first-round talent who fell due to injuries. I think this pick adds some clarity to why New England passed on Prince Amukamara at #17. When our first selection rolled around, I was rooting heavily for the Pats to take him. Clearly Belichick had his sights set on Dowling, and opted to shore up the tackle position with his first pick.
On selecting two running backs:
Derek: I like the selection of Shane Vereen, as I think he fits well with what the Patriots like to do at running back. BJGE is great at running the ball. Woodhead is great at catching the ball. Vereen is strong at both running and catching, and he should be good in pass-protection. Belichick likes to focus on players who can fill multiple needs with his early picks (For example, both McCourty and Dowling are four down players at corner and on special teams.) Vereen seems to fit that mold as a prototypical Patriot. The Ridley pick was certainly a head scratcher, but I look at the pick as a situation where the Patriots broke from protocol and drafted for need. Rather than spending money on a 4th back in free agency, the Patriots drafted one and can now spend that money on the O-line and pass rush.
Jason: The Pats got a lot younger at running back, but I'm not convinced that is the best plan of action. Assuming the Law Firm comes back in 2011 (probably a safe bet), his one full season as a starter will make him the position's crusty old veteran. The Pats haven't drafted and developed a decent running back since Curtis Martin, so a little bit of leadership and experience at the position could have gone a long way. After drafting two players and giving Woodhead an extension, the Patriots will be locked into a whole lot of inexperience at RB.
Rick: Even thought they did not get Mikel LeShoure or Ryan Williams, I think the Patriots have something in Shane Vereen. I went back to my California Golden Bears insider Wes Mills for more information on Vereen and this is a good pick because he is multi-dimensional. He has a power running element to his game which goes well with BenJarvus Green-Ellis. He can also catch the ball out of the backfield which is a huge positive for this team. I hated the pick of Stefan Ridley because I do not believe in drafting two straight running backs and now that will be the big competition in training camp if there is a training camp in July.
Stephen: This really shocked and disappointed me. The Pats saw Sheard, Ayers and Reed come off the board well before their next pick at 56, and they opted to take Shane Vereen who I saw as more of a third-round prospect. And once again, Belichick traded down, taking a third- and fifth-round choice for pick 60. But instead of taking a lineman or even a receiver, he took Stevan Ridley, a running back who most had rated as no better than a fifth-round prospect. The guy ran a 4.65 and is known as a workhorse - don't we already have someone similar in BJGE?
On Ryan Mallett:
Stephen: With the 74th pick, Belichick did the unthinkable and took Arkansas QB Ryan Mallet. I honestly don't know what the plan is for the former Razorback. He has immense talent, but tons of character questions. That was perfectly evident when quarterback-needy teams like Miami, Arizona, Seattle and Buffalo passed him over multiple times despite the perceived "value" past the first round. Now if Mallet turns out to be a clean guy and gets his act together, maybe he can be a great replacement down the road. If he's being groomed as a backup and potential trade chip, that might work too. It is a solid value pick, but the overriding point of this draft is the team failed to address its biggest, glaring need: the pass rush.
Rick: The big Ryan Mallett pick was a huge surprise to me, but I actually like the pick. I thought our division rivals Buffalo or Miami would get him for their quarterback needs and I thought we would wait till next year at the earliest to find Tom Brady's successor. Mallett got a little taste of the Belichick humble pie when he realized that he almost wasn't even taken in Day 2 when he has first round talent in his arm. He will mature and become more of a NFL professional behind Brady who is willing to mentor a quarterback like Drew Bledsoe did for him ten years ago and what Rodgers learned under Favre in Green Bay. Plus, he will be extremely motivated to prove the critics wrong, which is an awesome thing to have. Do we expect a Mallett 7 in ten years? Maybe.
Jason: The kid has an incredible arm. I'm a Big Ten guy, and I remembered watching him as a freshman at Michigan and thinking he was already better than Henne. It wasn't just the arm; even as a rookie, he was able to go through his progressions and get the football to the right receiver. And even though he had a cannon for an arm, he didn't make many mistakes with the football (his last two years at Arkansas resulted in a 62:19 TD:INT ratio). He seems like a great fit for the kind of offense the Pats like to run. He has the potential to make a lot of teams feel silly for passing on him twice.
Derek: I think the Mallet pickup was a solid one. The "value" was certainly there, and unlike a gamble on a late-round project QB, I think there's a very good chance that Mallett will at worst be a serviceable backup. The presence of Mallett makes Hoyer more expendable and if Hoyer has a good pre-season, he could very well get flipped for a 1st or 2nd rounder next year. Mallett slipped due to character concerns, but being in the Patriots system and having Tom Brady as a mentor could certainly fix those issues. I think it was a pick with a lot of upside and time will certainly tell if this selection was a "steal" or not.