The draft is in the books and now we can look back and see how the Patriots evaluated talent- or how they didn't. We've already mentioned that the Patriots had the inside scoop on first round pick offensive tackle Nate Solder, and how the team didn't bring him in for a visit until the Monday before the draft. Clearly the Patriots wanted to keep the interest in Solder quiet. My question is how many players did the Patriots bring in for a visit, or did they take the same approach with other players?
It's important to note that I'm not just talking about the official visits that teams are allotted. I'm talking about running players through drills at private workouts after Pro Days. Talking to players at post-season Shrine games. Additional interest at the Combine. You'll be surprised by how well the Patriots hid their interest in these players:
1. OT Nate Solder - We've discussed that the Patriots brought in Solder at the last minute. The Patriots used inside information from Patriots' assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach Moses Cabrera, the former Colorado S&C coach. The Patriots had a workout planned for Solder earlier in the off-season, but cancelled the visit to hide interest.
2. CB Ras-I Dowling - The Patriots did not bring in Dowling for a visit. The Patriots based Dowling's fit on game tape, as well as how much the Virginia defense is influenced by a Bill Belichick's disciple, Al Groh. Dowling has already played in coverage that is similar to what the Patriots' use, so Belichick was comfortable taking Dowling.
3. RB Shane Vereen - The Patriots did not bring in Vereen for a visit- in fact, only the local 49ers brought in Vereen. This leads to a lot of teams trying to mask their interest in Vereen. He was a healthy player and a highly touted prospect, so the lack of visits meant that teams didn't want to show they wanted Vereen. (The Browns were planning on working out Vereen, but it fell through).
4. RB Stevan Ridley - The Patriots did not work out Ridley. The combination of production in the SEC and his size made Ridley an appealing prospect to Coach Belichick, who has had surprise with grinder running backs from the SEC.
5. QB Ryan Mallett - The first prospect that the Patriots brought in that was nationally publicized. Of course, the visit followed a visit by fellow quarterback prospect Jake Locker so everyone, myself included, assumed that Belichick was doing his due diligence and examining prospects for a potential trade-down. It just so happened that the due diligence evolved into actual interest as Mallett's value was too much for the Patriots to ignore in the third round.
6. OT/OG Marcus Cannon - The Patriots did not work out Cannon. Like Mallett, I believe that Cannon was a prospect who presented too much value to overlook at that point in the draft. I'm not sure if the Patriots had initial interest in Cannon because they traded out of the third and fourth rounds, but the fact that Cannon was still on the board was too much for Belichick to pass over.
7. TE Lee Smith - The Patriots did not work out Smith. However, the Patriots did bring in some of the more athletic receiving tight ends (Virgin Green, Nevada; Rob Housler, Florida Atlantic; Julius Thomas, Portland State), so the selection of the blocking tight end Smith went against the grain of the visits and interest shown by the Patriots.
8. OLB Markell Carter - The Patriots did work out Carter, but it was not publicized. Teams such as the Buccaneers, the Packers, the Jaguars, and the Rams all publicly expressed interest in Carter, but the Patriots were never associated with the player displaying secrecy of their interest.
9. CB Malcolm Williams - The Patriots did not work out Williams. In fact, I don't think any team worked out Williams. However, when the Patriots attended TCU's Pro Day (probably to check out quarterback Andy Dalton), Williams stood out with impressive athleticism and I can see the Patriots taking a 7th round flier on a player without starting experience.
Looking at the tally, it appears that the Patriots worked out Solder, Mallett, and Carter. However, Solder was a last minute visit and Carter was kept under wraps. Even Mallett's visit was assumed as research as opposed to actual interest. The Patriots made a point to hide their interest this year and, in a weak draft, it was important to make sure opposing teams weren't knowledgeable of the Patriots' true desires.
This draft came out of left field for some fans and I feel like it may have surprised talent evaluators around the league, as the Patriots took player after player who they didn't appear to be interested in selecting.