NEPD Staff Writer: Mike Loyko
Prior to the season I previewed the Patriots rookies and what was to be expected of them. With a little more than half the season over I take a look at how they have performed and what the future may hold.
This year is a very unique season for NFL rookies. Due to the lockout, rookies were unable to obtain playbooks, take part in rookie camp, minicamp and had a shortend training camp. This has resulted in very few first-year players making big impacts around the league. Yes, a handful of quarterbacks and some highly drafted wide receivers have had a pretty big impact, but in contrast to other years rookie contributions are way down.
Bill Belichick has a unique drafting strategy. Rather than looking at his team in the short term impact of certain players, like many NFL GM’s, Belichick makes selections and uses picks for down the road.
With the lockout in place, Bill Belichick more than ever looked a year ahead when making some of his picks. Most Patriot fans think when a rookie doesn’t make an immediate impact or doesn’t step on the field his rookie year he is a bust. This season more than ever I urge people to use caution when judging this Patriot rookie class.
Solder had to step in game one against one of the best pass rushers in football and played extremely well. Solder has shown all his tools and athleticism which will make him one of the best LT in the NFL within 3 years.
While he has looked shaky at times he has improved steadily. With Matt Light getting most of the snaps at LT Solder has shown his versatility lining up at RT, TE and even motioning across the formation. Sebastian Vollmer has been banged up most of the season, so look for Solder to get a good number of snaps down the stretch. Bill Belichick rarely misses on first round picks and looks like he has hit on another one.
This is likely to be the most controversal rookie discussed all year. Dowling had major injury questions coming into the draft after being severely limited his entire senior campaign. Dowling then missed essentially all trainig camp before starting game 1 in Miami.
When he played he looked fabulous. I can’t overstate that enough. For a rookie to step in after missing all training camp was extremely impressive. He went on to look pretty good in the first quarter of the San Diego game. Unfortunately that is where Dowlings rookie season would end, as he tore a hip ligament and was placed on I.R. two weeks ago.
While this season is basically lost, I am extremely optimistic about his future (if he can stay HEALTHY). It is also very important to note that if the Patriots were unable to trade out of the first round last April, they would have taken Ras-I at pick #28, that’s how high Bill Belichick is on this kid. Belichick was able to get Shane Vereen and a first round pick next year, as well as Dowling. Hard not to like that logic.
Shane Vereen –
Vereen has yet to record a carry or a catch for the Patriots this season. With BJGE and Danny Woodhead returning to the Patriots backfield it appeared that Vereen’s workload would be limited during his rookie season.
The worst thing that happened to Shane Vereen is that he was late to sign his rookie contract and then got hurt shortly after, missing most of the preseason. This year will essentially be a red-shirt year for Vereen, which isn’t a bad thing. I fully expect BJGE to be gone after this season where the Patriots backfield duty will be handled by their two rookie RB.
Stevan Ridley –
Ridley was considered a reach by a lot of draft experts, however it was clear during the preseason that Ridley had more talent than many people predicted. Ridley was able to stay healthy all camp and surpassed Vereen early on.
Unlike Vereen, Ridley has been slowly integrated into the backfield game-planning. His signature moment so far has been his game against the Raiders where he ran for over 100 yards and a TD, giving Patriot fans a glimpse of what’s to come.
I wrote prior to the season that by the end of the season Stevan Ridley would be the starter, and I am going to stick to that. I believe he will enter training camp next year as the #1 back and will even make a big impact down the stretch this season.
Ryan Mallett –
When Ryan Mallett was drafted, it was obvious it wasn’t for this season. Mallett was by far the highest rated player on the Patriots board. Mallett hasn’t taken the field during the regular season and if everything goes to plan he won’t see the field for at least 2 more seasons. He has as much potential as any QB drafted this year.
I have no clue as to how he is developing or coming along in practice. Patriot fans will have to wait until next preseason to see how much Mallett has improved. I loved Mallett coming into the draft and like the Patriots had him at #1 on my board. I am extremely excited about him developing into the successor to TB12.
Marcus Cannon –
Marcus Cannon hasn’t played a down for the Patriots this season. But he is back on the practice field and that in itself is great news. It appears Cannon has overcome his cancer diagnosis and appears close to being activated to the Patriots active roster. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cannon get some snaps later in the year.
Smith was released during training camp, with hopes of signing him to the practice squad. He didn’t even come close to clearing through waivers where the Buffalo Bills who held the #3 waiver claim picked him up. He has gone on to make little impact in Buffalo as of yet.
Markell Carter –
Carter is currently on the Patriots practice squad. I don’t expect to see him active at all this year. He was a developmental pick when it was made and still is. If the Patriots ever get production out of Carter consider this pick a win.
I hated this pick when it was made and hate it now. Williams was hardly more than a ST player at TCU. He himself didn’t even expect to be drafted, so it was extremely unlikely he made the team. He was cut early in camp, but recently was resigned to the practice squad. I would doubt he ever makes any impact for this franchise and if he does it will only be on special teams.
Undrafted Free Agents:
Tarpinian was signed based on his reputation as a special teams specialist. Tarpinian has managed to stay active on the 53 man roster and survive numerous situations where he could have been cut, which goes to show how he is viewed within the organization. Tarpinian started his first game in the NFL on Sunday night vs the Jets. However, his future is on ST.
While the Patriots have only gotten contributions from a handful of their rookies so far, this is hardly a lost class. Each player remaining on the roster has a ton of potential. Whether that potential will ever be seen remains to be seen.