First-year impact: How have the rookies fared?

Armed with multiple picks in the first few rounds of the 2011 draft, the Patriots looked prime to add playmakers to an already loaded team.

However, in true Belichickian fashion, the team traded down several times, picking up an extra first- and second-round pick in 2012.

With an ineffective pass rush, many thought the team would target a defensive end/outside linebacker with the 17th overall pick.

We were fooled again.

Longtime left tackle Matt Light was a free agent, and with no viable option to replace him, Colorado tackle Nate Solder became the newest Patriot.

Blessed with a tremendous frame and athleticism, Solder possesses the physical makeup to be a very good left tackle.

Although he was projected to be a starter, Light signed a two-year deal and Solder entered the preseason as the swing tackle.

However, the rookie has been thrown into the fire during the regular season as starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer has been sidelined with a back injury.

Solder hasn’t embarrassed himself at right tackle, although he has blown several assignments and drawn a few too many holding penalties.

His incredible size (6-foot-8, 319 pounds) can be both an asset and a hindrance.  It’s difficult for defensive linemen to get around him and his long reach is an asset in pass protection. At the same time, he doesn’t possess the lower-body strength to get a great push off the line, and shorter players can win the leverage battle.

Overall, Solder has certainly been an asset, and his future looks bright. He earns a B grade for his work to this point.

In another head-scratching move, the Pats opted to take running backs with two high picks. The more surprising result has been their production.

Former California standout Shane Vereen, the team’s second-round pick, missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury, and has yet to carry the ball.

Stevan Ridley, a third-rounder out of LSU, has flashed better-than-expected speed and agility, running for 180 yards on just 28 carries. Ridley is a more-talented version of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and looks poised to be a major contributor this season and in the future. Ridley also earns a B for his contributions.

Beyond Solder and Ridley, the Pats have seen little production from the rest of their draft class. Second-round picks Ras-I Dowling and Vereen have struggled with injuries which has been disappointing since both were projected to be top backups, if not starters.

Dowling has the size and speed to be a shutdown corner, but he’s struggled to shed the injury-prone label that he earned in college.

If he can get over his hip injury, Dowling has the talent to beat out Kyle Arrington and Leigh Bodden for the starting spot opposite Devin McCourty.

Despite his speed, Vereen may be too far down the depth chart to earn snaps over veterans BJGE, Danny Woodhead and possibly Kevin Faulk.

Overall, the Patriots draft class has been underwhelming this year. Luckily, they are talented and don’t have to play right away because of the team’s depth. By year’s end, Dowling, Solder and Ridley should be playing significant snaps with Vereen being the wild card.

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