NEPD Staff Writer: Mike Loyko
With training camp and the preseason coming to an end, here’s how we think the rookies fared and what the future may hold for them.
Nate Solder, LT, Colorado- 1st Round Pick 17 –
Acquired with the Richard Seymour pick from the Raiders many fans where disappointed when Bill Belichick selected a tackle instead of one of the many defensive lineman that were available. (I have to admit I was a little disappointed when they picked Solder). The scouting report on Solder coming out of Colorado was that he was extremely athletic and mobile for such a large specimen. He needed to work on this strength and plays too high at times due to his height. At Belichick’s post draft press conference he stated that Nate Solder was primarily a LT only and that is where he would be playing.
Post Camp Analysis-
It looks like we have our left tackle of the future! Playing tackle and especially LT as a rookie is one of the toughest positions to come into the NFL and make an impact. When you factor in that Solder was one of the last picks to sign his contract and missed significant time in camp, you would think not much will be expected of Nate this year. However, since day 1 Solder has been thrown right into the mix and has performed from pretty well. His athleticism and quickness is what really has stands out. Many people don’t think Solder will play much this season since we re-signed long time stalwart Matt Light, I disagree. While Solder is raw and has a lot to learn, he is too talented to not see the field this year. One of the things that really stood out to me this pre-season is that Belichick has moved Solder around the line from LT to RT, and has even played some guard. That tells me is that Bill is trying to find a way to get Solder on the field at any position on the line if something should happen to one of the starters.
Potential All-Pro and franchise LT. Should make an impact by midseason. If Matt Light struggles or gets injured he may not get his job back. As a former TE I wouldn’t be surprised if Solder is utilized as an extra tackle and potential weapon in the red zone, like Mike Vrabel used to be.
Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia -2nd Round Pick 33-
A highly touted corner who passed on the draft as a junior to return for his senior year. Injuries plagued him all year and he was only able to see the field for a few games. The durability questions dropped him to the second round. Ras-I is a big corner, with a very good football IQ and can really tackle. He should be able to play multiple positions including safety if need be. Extremely fast for his size, he was timed at 4.40 in the 40 at the combine despite pulling up at the end with a hamstring issue.
Post Camp Analysis-
The only question prior to the draft with Ras-I was injuries and unfortunately those questions still linger after camp. Dowling signed his contract a week after camp started and participated in only one practice before his hamstring started acting up again. Ras-I would go on to miss 3 weeks of camp and the first 3 preseason games. We were able to get a limited look in game #4 against the Giants. Although it was a very brief glimpse I was extremely impressed with what I saw. Dowling looks fluid and athletic. He was able to get very good jams on his man, which disrupted at least two plays. His size is a huge plus as he is not only able to run with big receivers he can also cover them. Even though Ras-I missed much of camp I am expecting him to make an impact his rookie year. Belichick’s history indicates he will throw a rookie corner out there and allow him to learn on the job. He did it with Devin McCourty last year and with Darius Butler the year before. With Jonathan Wilhite already released, Dowling will be counted on this year; if he stays healthy.
Future #2 CB with Devin McCourty, many see a possible move to safety but, I get the sense BB really likes him as a CB. If he can stay healthy he can be really good.
Shane Vereen, RB, California- 2nd Round Pick 56-
Entered the draft as a junior, coming from a Cal program that has produced many successful NFL RB. The book on Vereen prior to the draft was that he is an all around back. He can catch the ball out of the backfield as well as pass protect. A one cut and go kind of runner who fits the Patriots system nicely, however more of a home run threat than any of the backs on the roster. Vereen proved to be one of the strongest backs at the combine doing 30 reps of 225 pounds.
Post Camp Analysis-
Vereen’s preseason progress is almost identical to that of Dowling’s. Signed late, participated in one practice and then got hurt. He missed 3 weeks of camp and 3 preseason games. We were able to get a limited viewing last night, which wasn’t much to judge him on. I liked how he hit the hole and he looks like he can be explosive. However, I would have liked to see him take on contact better; he seemed to go down on first contact. I don’t expect Vereen to make much of an impact early on. However, as injuries take their toll and the season goes on, Vereen will get his chance. He has catching up to do to make a significant impact this year.
Belichick passed on Mark Ingram and a slew of other RB to take Vereen in round 2. He is viewed as the RB of the future right now. If Vereen can learn the playbook and adjust to the NFL, I don’t see any reason why he can’t be a starting RB in the league. Has more upside than any back on the current roster.
Stevan Ridley, RB, LSU- 3rd Round Pick 73-
Another RB who entered the draft after his junior season. Ridley was a 1 year starter at LSU, who was very productive in the very tough SEC. Ridley is a physical downhill runner who can take on contact. He’s a great weapon in short yardage and goal line situations because of his strong lower body. At the time Ridley was considered a reach in the 3rd round and kind of a head scratcher because we had just picked Shane Vereen with our pick before.
Post Camp Analysis-
No rookie improved their stock more this preseason than Stevan Ridley. Ridley got into camp early, and at a time when BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Shane Vereen were not yet signed. That decision paid off as Ridley was able to take the majority of reps with the 1st team offense. In the first two preseason games Ridley shined. He showed ability to hit the hole and go, but also the ability to get to the edge. When the team got near the goal line Ridley showed off his power running. When he senses the goal line he is determined finish. (Just watch the LSU vs. Tennessee film) The thing that really has impressed me with Ridley are his hands. He was not known as much of a pass catcher coming out of LSU; however he was targeted multiple times and looked comfortable and natural catching the ball. Unlike Vereen, I feel like Ridley will make a bigger impact as a rookie and by the end of the year he could be pushing for the starting job.
Prior to the draft not too much was made about Ridley. However, Charlie Casserly (I know) of the NFL Network, was all over Ridley. He said something that really caught my eye. He said something along the lines of “Ridley is one of the most NFL ready backs in the draft” and even went so far as to say “Ridley will rush for 1,600 yards in the NFL.” While I won’t go that far, I think Ridley is a faster more athletic BJGE and that is something that is very attractive to Bill Belichick. In my opinion by next season Ridley is the starting running back on this team.
Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas- Round 3 Pick 74 –
Probably the most talented natural passer in the draft, but also one of the biggest question marks. Mallett possesses one of the strongest arms I have ever seen on a QB. The only reason he was able to make it to the 3rd round was because of multiple off the field questions. At 6’6” 250, Mallett is a huge QB who reminds many of Drew Bledsoe. The Patriots had Mallett in for a pre-draft visit and even had him rated as the #1 QB in the draft. Once he slipped to their pick in the 3rd round the value and potential payoff was too good to pass up.
Post Camp Analysis-
Mallett has had the type of preseason you would expect of a rookie QB. At times he has looked great, and at times he has struggled. No one can question his arm strength or his ability to make all the NFL throws-he can do that. But, he has a lot to learn about reading defenses, managing the game, and decision making. Unlike other rookie QB’s, Mallett has the great fortune of sitting behind the best QB who ever lived and learning from him for the next 3 years. If everything goes as planned Mallett will only see the field in the pre-season or in blowouts. However his progress and growth will be measured in practice and in the classroom. One thing that has stood out about Mallett this preseason is his work ethic and love of the game. He was often one of the first out on the practice field, and stayed after almost every day to work on things. While he has had off the field questions, no one can question his love of the game.
If everything goes as planned and Mallett keeps his head screwed on straight, when Tom Brady decides to hang it up, the reigns of this franchise will be handed over to Ryan Mallett for the next chapter in Patriots history. As a side note, I have been a Ryan Mallett fan since he was coming out of high school. I was ecstatic when he was selected by us, and I will be rooting for him to be successful. I really believe he will be the best player we drafted when we look back on this draft class 10 years from now.
Marcus Cannon, OT/OG, TCU- 5th Round Pick 138-
A potential 2nd round pick, Cannon’s life changed when at the combine a mass was found in his stomach. It turned out to be malignant and treatment would be needed. In turn, his football stock dropped, allowing the Patriots to STEAL him in the 5th round. Cannon is a massive human being who in all likely hood will be moved inside to guard in the pros. Even though he is so big he is very athletic for his size.
Post Camp Analysis- Cannon didn’t take part in camp due to chemotherapy treatments and his recovery from cancer. The recovery seems to be going well, and all the news we have heard on Marcus is encouraging. He will start the season on the NFI/PUP list, which means he is ineligible to play or practice until week 7 at the earliest.
Outlook- With Cannon out until week 7, it will be tough for him to make an impact this season. However, with the Patriots thin on the interior of the line, Cannon could provide depth and competition in the second half of the season. If Cannon is able to recover I expect him to challenge for the starting RG spot in 2012.
Lee Smith, TE, Marshall- 5th Round Pick 159-
Smith was team captain at Marshall as a senior and was the consensus best blocking TE in the draft. Not much of a pass catcher, Smith can be dominate as an inline blocker.
Post Camp Analysis –
When Alge Crumpler was release early in the preseason Smith stepped right in and assumed his role. I was really impressed with Smith during the first two preseason games. He exhibited better hands than advertised and appeared ready to make an impact. Smith was targeted a couple times by Brady and provides another huge target in the red zone. The last two preseason games Smith hasn’t seen the field much with UDFA Will Yeatman getting the playing time. This has led many to suggest Smith has been passed by the former lacrosse player. In my opinion, I’m not sure if that’s the case. It was reported last night by Greg A. Bedard that Smith has a pretty bad hand injury.
This is a tough call on Smith, I can see him being the 3rd tight end and blocking TE if he is healthy. I was really impressed by him during camp. If he is not healthy I think he goes on IR, or the Patriots try to sneak him on the practice squad. Either way I think Smith is part of the Patriots this year. Whether he makes an impact on the field remains the question.
Markell Carter, DE, Central Arkansas- 6th Round Pick 194 –
Coming from Division 1-AA not too much was known about Carter by draft fans. The lone pass rusher drafted by the Patriots, Carter was drafted as a project that appeared very raw on the limited film I saw of him.
Post Camp Analysis-
Carter didn’t stand out too much during camp or the preseason games. I actually had to re-watch the games to see when he was in and what he did. Entering camp he was a long shot to make the team and didn’t flash like he needed to, breakthrough on deep defensive line.
If I had to guess I would say Carter remains with the team as one of the 8 practice squad players. But, there is a chance that Carter is let go outright.
Malcolm Williams, CB, TCU-
7th Round Pick 219- Williams didn’t even start on a TCU team that played a base defense with 5 defensive backs. Williams himself didn’t expect to be draft which speaks to how big of a reach Williams was at the time. From what I understand Williams had a very good pro day at TCU and was drafted as a special teams player ala Matthew Slater.
Post Camp Analysis-
Williams failed to make an impact in any real facet of the game and was released when rosters were cut from 90-80 earlier this week.
Williams is a long shot to ever make an NFL roster.
Undrafted Free Agents-
Every year it seems that the Patriots have at least one free agent make the roster. With a much deeper roster and shorter off season this year, the odds are even longer that an UDFA will make an impact. Here’s a brief rundown of how I think they fared.
Mike Berry, G, Auburn-
Berry was cut earlier in camp (and again today) because he wasn’t healthy, making him a long shot to even make practice squad.
Aaron Lavarius, DE, Idaho-
Lavarius flashed earlier in camp but fizzled out, could be a possible practice squad player.
Clay Nurse, DE, Illinois-
Nurse was unimpressive, and released this week.
Richard Medlin, RB, Fayetteville-
Medlin scored 2 preseason touchdowns, but had a bad fumble against the Giants which was returned for a touchdown. Update: he has been cut according to Chris Price.
Alex Silvestro, DE, Rutgers-
Silvestro isn’t overly athletic and hasn’t done much in camp; a long shot for the practice squad.
Jeff Tarpinian, ILB, Iowa-
Tarpinian had probably the best odds of any of the UDFA to make the squad due to his outstanding special teams ability. He started off camp nicely and looked ready to challenge Tracy White for that roster spot. Tarpinian has since been hurt for the last couple weeks, and I think will end up on IR so the Patriots retain his rights for next year.
Will Yeatman, TE, Maryland-
A former lacrosse player, Yeatman has been the most impressive UDFA in camp and has the best chance to make the roster as the 3rd TE. If Lee Smith is hurt or cut the job should be his. A massive target, with good athleticism, Yeatman is at the very least headed for the practice squad if he can clear waivers.