April 29, 2011
Patriots Go Once, Twice, Sold on Solder
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- A pass rusher, a stud running back, a replacement for Tom Brady, those were among the trinkets Bill Belichick figured to take with two first round picks in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Once again, Belichick shows you all that trying to predict what the Patriots will do in the War Room is a fool's toil. It is much easier to talk about what the Patriots did rather than what they might do. If you ever correctly guessed what Belichick does with his high draft picks (and saying "trading down" doesn't count), you need to run out to your nearest lottery seller and get in on the next Powerball draw.
No one will believe you if you predicted that the Patriots would opt for the eventual replacement for Matt Light as their first pick. Holding picks 17 and 28 in the first round, the Patriots spent their 17th and traded their 28th. With the 17th pick, the Patriots selected Colorado tackle Nate Solder, who projects out as a premier left tackle and puts the future of the veteran Light into doubt. The Patriots sent the 28th pick to New Orleans in return for their second round pick (number 56 overall) and their first round pick in 2012. The Saints used that pick to select Alabama running back Mark Ingram, who came to Foxborough recently for an extended stay and a close look-see.
The reviews on Solder are mixed, but most of them are positive. NFL Network mentioned Solder only once in passing before they made the pick, throwing out several other names. Mike Mayock had Solder going in the second round. His profile on NFL.com paints a good picture of Solder, a huge (6'8", 319 pounds) physical specimen that did project as a first rounder.
The profile on the NFL website spoke of Solder as "one of the premier left tackle prospects". In what might be a somewhat mild condemnation of Light, the review says that Solder is not susceptible to the bull rush, something that continues to dog Light to this day. It also praises Solder as being a solid run blocker who fires off the line of scrimmage and has good footwork. The only negatives against Solder are that he needs to bulk up more and to play with a mean streak for sixty minutes.
Light broke in with the Patriots in 2001 as a second round pick out of Purdue. In the ten seasons he has been here, he has given the left tackle position a ton of stability. Light is a three-time pro bowler, but he is four inches shorter than Solder and 15 pounds lighter. The biggest knock against Light is his inability to deal with outside speed rushers, generally needing a tight end to help out in such situations.
With Solder on the left side and Sebastian Vollmer on the right, the Patriots might have their bookend blockers for some years to come. Right tackle has been one of the least stable positions during the Belichick era, but Vollmer has shown that he has the stuff to hold down the position like Light did on the left side. Light is not signed beyond 2010, so perhaps this spells the end of a decent career for one of the few remaining Patriots with three Super Bowl rings in their safety deposit boxes.
One of the other such gents, Tom Brady, needs to be well protected as he heads towards the back end of his 30s. Solder needs to be good enough so that Brady doesn't head towards his back end, period. Solder also needs to be healthy; Light missed five games in 2009 and 13 games in 2005. He also missed a huge chunk of Super Bowl XXXVI, with Grant Williams getting to play in much of that contest.
The Patriots now head into Friday night's session with a whopping three second round picks and two third round picks. The Patriots will lead off the second round with a pick acquired from Carolina at 33, then they will get the new pick they just got from New Orleans at 56, and then their own at 60. The Patriots will probably trade two of these picks, but in case they use all three picks, here are some wild guesses as to who they could be targeting.
A decent pass rusher is available at 33, DaQuan Bowers from Clemson, who would give Belichick a speed rusher and help the Patriots get off the field on third down. A blue-chip running back is available, Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams, in case the team is not sold on BenJarvus Green-Ellis being the real deal after the first 1,000-yard season of his career.
But the ultimate wild guess would be someone like Kentucky's Randall Cobb. His physical size is similar to Deion Branch. But he offers versatility, as a setback and as a returner as well as a receiver. This is the sort of value player that the Patriots covet, as Belichick always picks value over need. This is a position that the Patriots really don't have a flaming need for unless they see Cobb as a replacement for Branch down the road, but he is someone that bears watching.
One other player to keep your eye on who is still out there is Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett. One might wonder if Belichick takes this guy as the heir apparent to Brady and grooms him for a few years like Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay or when Steve Young did his apprenticeship behind Joe Montana in the glory days of the 49ers. Guys like Rohan Davey, Kliff Kingsbury and Kevin O'Connell weren't the answer, and Matt Cassel was simply the right guy at the wrong time. Maybe Mallett could take over for Brady if he is willing to sit with a clipboard for five years. But the man who advised Belichick to take Brady in 2000, Dick Rehbein, isn't here to help Belichick choose his next field general.
For now, Patriot Nation is scrambling about their computers to learn more about this guy named Solder. They are also wondering what to make of the left side of the offensive line, if both Light and Logan Mankins are gone (Mankins might still stay if the Patriots pay him what he wants and then kiss his feet). Add to that the retirement of Stephen Neal, and you will have a completely rebuilt offensive line in 2011 for the Patriots.
Light contributed right away as a rookie in 2001, going against the prognostications of some heralded scribes in the area. Solder will have to do the same ten years later if this draft pick is going to be judged as worthwhile.
And it will also determine if the fan base will be sold on Solder as well.
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