First off, I’d like to express my deepest thanks to the US Navy Seals who brought justice to one of the most horrific figures in world history. Osama Bin Laden was confirmed dead by President Obama just before midnight last night. A pretty significant sports event was transpiring when the announcement came across the wire. A major league baseball team from NY and another from PA were tied in a 1-1 game in the 9th inning. Numeric symbolism…. Perhaps, but this is a great win for our nation and for those who passed on ten years ago. The fight against terror does not stop, but this was a victory for all those who fight against it day after day.
I guess there is really no “good” time to get sick and be bed ridden. However, the NFL draft is one time where you hate to leave your TV. Being sick for the majority of the weekend, I was able to watch as much Rich Eisen and Jon Gruden as I could handle. Gruden, I could watch and listen to all day. His bromances with every “guy” on the board and in the draft is perfect for television. I could go on and on about some serious head scratchers, like Christian Ponder, Jake Locker, and the Jets 3rd round pick out of Hampton, but I’m going to focus on the Patriots and why I feel this was a successful draft for the boys from Foxboro.
1st Round – Nate Solder (OT – Colorado)
When it comes to drafting linemen early in a draft, the Patriots have had close to 100% hit rate in the BB era. Logan Mankins, Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, and now Nate Solder are all first round picks during Bill Belichick’s tenure here in New England. Solder was worked out by legendary line coach Dante Scarnecchia and Bill’s faith in him was definitely a key piece to making this draft choice. Solder has amazing speed for such a massive guy. One of the fastest linemen at the combine, Solder was described as a late first or early second round pick. Kiper and other analysts thought it was a reach to grab him at 17, but the Patriots felt he was the “best fit player for their program” and I feel he will make an immediate impact once Light leaves via free agency. The Solder pick should result in a Mankins long term deal, while also locking up the offensive line for the duration of Brady’s career.
2nd Round – Ras- I Dowling (CB – Virginia)
Besides having one of the coolest names in the draft, Dowling was a first round prospect at the start of the 2010 season. He is a big physical corner, an insane athlete, and has extremely long arms. However he comes with a price of the injury bug. Dowling had a variety of injuries last year but has been medically cleared by the Patriots staff. This is a pick when I first heard it announced, I let out an enormous F-Bomb. Another cornerback, really? Then I let the pick marinate for a little bit and some clarity came with it. There is Bodden coming back from injury, Arrington being a massive overachiever, and the jury still out on Wilhite and Butler, this pick does make some sense. Let’s also not forget about “Big Bang Clock” being part of, oh just a small thing called a shooting down in Florida in the off season. Maybe Dowling will be a great nickel back, maybe he will be slid into strong safety, we will have to wait and see once mini-camps start. The one piece that does aggravate me here is he could have been around much later in the draft. Address the pass rush! I said this until late Saturday afternoon. My buddy and I actually said via text message “Watch them go draft a tight end, because we are so depleted in that department.” Low and behold, we went and did it a few hours later.
2nd Round – Shane Vereen (RB – California)
Tom Brady isn’t getting any younger, so with the Patriots drafting a hardnosed running back in the second round, this should come of no surprise Vereen is great in pass blocking situations and was praised for his maturity and smarts by BB. With a strong emphasis on special teams, Vereen also has a history of playing the gunner position. Can we expect him to be a Kelly Washington type player? A possible replacement for Kevin Faulk is the most likely.
3rd Round – Stevan Ridley – (RB – LSU)
This was my biggest gripe of the entire draft. I hate to sound like a broken record here, but where is our pass rush coming from this year? Ridley is a grinder. He can tough out the short yards, keep the clock moving, and was a beast at LSU last season. I think of the last two draft picks as a Chris Johnson/LenDale White or DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart type tandom. Technically right now there is Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, Danny Woodhead, Kevin Faulk, The Law Firm, Shane Vereen, and Stevan Ridley in the Patriots backfield. Taylor should be retiring as will Kevin Faulk. Morris is a free agent who they will probably let go. Woodhead was signed last year and The Law Firm is also a soon to be free agent. Another question is, why not take Ingram at 28?
3rd Round – Ryan Mallett (QB – Arkansas)
If the successor to Tom Brady is going to be the Bode Miller of the college ranks, so be it. Mallett reportedly has a terrible work ethic and approach to the game, but he loves football. My message to Bill or anyone else who buys that line, if you don’t love football, you are in the wrong god damn game! Mallet loves football so much, he almost quit after his sophomore year, but his Dad talked him out of it. He transferred out of Michigan to head to Arkansas where he really transformed his game. Mallett has a rocket arm, amazing accuracy, and great pocket presence. Apparently his only issue is mental toughness and being coachable. If anyone can break this trait it will be Brady and Belichick. Out of all the picks, I am most interested to see how this guy performs come preseason. I am also intrigued to see if this pick becomes a Montana/Young, Favre/Rodgers type of mentoring project for Tom Brady.
This year was a successful draft for the Patriots however the glaring need is still in the pass rush. We loaded up on picks again though we could dump them to sign a free agent once free agency begins. That would be the most practical theory but practicality doesn’t seem to exist down in Foxboro. Whatever we think is going to happen, typically doesn’t. This weekend was a clear case of that. Some will say New Orleans had “our draft” this weekend. They had the Patriot “fan” draft, but also lost a first rounder and have to sign two first round picks in the process. The proof will be in the pudding once the season starts, if it ever does.