Our very own Stephen Sheehan did some solid analysis of the Patriots draft yesterday. Scroll down a bit if you missed it, as it’s a tremendous read. Today, we’re going to look at what the so-called “experts” think of Belichick’s draft. Mind you, these are the same experts that whiffed on predicting nearly every pick Thursday night, so take from it what you will. Personally, I’ll side with Belichick on the draft day decisions.
A couple of disclaimers: No one works the draft and manages the draft like Bill Belichick. And a year ago, I was screaming for the Patriots to make a big deal and trade for Anquan Boldin. They scored 32 points a game without Boldin; so much for my sense of urgency at receiver.
But with their treasure trove of draft choices — three in the top 33 when no other team had more than one, and five in the top 75 — they had to upgrade a deficient pass-rush, and didn’t do it. (Great stat from John Clayton of ESPN: When New England sent five rushers or more last season, opposing quarterbacks had a rating of 103.2. That was third-worst in the league. I’m amazed any team was worse than that, really. That’s just awful. And New England allowed a 47-percent third-down conversion rate, which is not a winning defensive number. Not close.) The Patriots got cute. They set themselves up for the future, when they’ll control the 2012 draft again with two first-round picks and two second-rounders. This is a draft New England needed to add pass-rush pieces, not just one. And they got none.
They passed on two good rush prospects — Pitt’s Jabaal Sheard and Arizona’s Brooks Reed, who went 37 and 42 to Cleveland and Houston, respectively. New England got a good tackle at 17, Nate Solder, and you can’t knock them for dealing the 28th pick to New Orleans for the Saints’ first-rounder next year plus the 56th pick in this draft, which they used on Cal running back Shane Vereen. But at 33, with Sheard and Reed in play, Belichick took cornerback Ras-I Dowling of Virginia, continuing a borderline myopic trend with corners.
New England’s leading outside pass-rusher last year, Tully Banta-Cain, had five sacks last year. Not good enough.
There’s no real problem with any of the players the Patriots drafted. Even QB Ryan Mallet, who generated all sort of odd reactions from NFL coaches and executives, was a good value pick in the third round. Beyond that, trading out from the second of two first-round picks got the Patriots another first-rounder in 2012. However, there’s something somewhat illogical about what the Patriots did this year, particularly after taking 12 players in each of the previous two drafts. Taking nine players this year just means that the Patriots are going to have to cut a lot of those guys. Moreover, the Patriots didn’t take a front-seven defensive player until the sixth round, when they took project Carter. This is a team that needed help in the pass rush to improve what has been a mundane defense in the past few years. Grade: C+
Sure, Solder will fill a need, but the Patriots failed to address their poor pass rush at all during the draft. Did they really need another cornerback? All the cornerbacks in the world won’t help unless the pass rush up front is getting to the quarterback. Grade: D
No pass rusher, but a slew of talented players led by Nate Solder, Ras-I Dowling, Shane Vereen and Ryan Mallett. Plus they have two picks next year in both the first and second rounds. Grade: A+
Another predictably unpredictable Patriots draft. They took players other teams were afraid to: Mallett fell to round three because of “off-field” concerns, while Cannon fell to round five because of a non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis. Both were arguably first-round talents.
A pair of mid-round running backs (Vereen and Ridley) should help right away, but passing on front seven help was curious. Solder was perhaps the most talented tackle in this class and could replace Matt Light immediately. Line coach Dante Scarnecchia will know what to do with Solder.
Oh, and by the way: The Patriots picked up an extra first and second round pick in next year’s draft. Grade: B+