I would have put money on the Patriots trading away from the 33rd pick overall. They were going to either trade down and pick up some mid-second round draft picks, or gain another 2012 first rounder. I would have guaranteed that course of action. Of course, the Patriots have Bill Belichick so they definitely weren't going to do anything I thought they were going to do.
However, I believe most people were
a little a lot surprised with the selection of cornerback Ras-I Dowling. The Patriots already have young star Devin McCourty, a returning star in Leigh Bodden, as well as plenty of depth in Kyle Arrington and Darius Butler. Dowling played LCB all throughout college, which is the same position as McCourty, and Belichick has expressed that Dowling has the frame to play on the outside- which basically means that Dowling will not be the nickel-corner.
So what does that mean? The Patriots used the 33rd overall pick to pick a player who will play behind a second year star? That doesn't make much sense. I understand that Dowling has experience in a Patriots-type system, in the Al Groh defense at Virginia, and that he has elite size and speed, is a sure tackler, has the ability to break up passes, and has great versatility as both a potential cornerback and free safety, but is that worth the 33rd overall pick?
I'll say "yes."We all know that the league is a "passing league." Everyone's been saying. However, the most dangerous wide receivers aren't always on the outside of the field- they are the slot receivers. The Wes Welkers, Davone Bess', Danny Amendolas, Santonio Holmes, and Austin Collies all have gained tremendous value. Teams are lucky to have two solid corners, so adding a third slot receiver on the field will often tip the balance towards the offense.
So how does adding an outside corner help defend the slot receiver?
Devin McCourty. Leigh Bodden. Projected Ras-I Dowling. I'd put that trio of cornerbacks against any other trio in the league and I'd trust the Patriots to hold their ground. McCourty has the size, quickness, and skill to cover the slot corners who can do some damage, while Dowling can take McCourty's spot on the outside.
Also, keep in mind the age of Bodden. He'll be 30 at the beginning of the season and he's coming off a season-ending injury. I wouldn't be surprised if the 6'1, 197 lbs Dowling replaces the 6'1, 194 lbs Bodden in the long term- or even in the next season or two.
Thirdly, add in the versatility of Dowling; with his size, tackling ability, and ball skills, he could be an ideal free safety in the Patriots' defense. Belichick has stated that he plans on using Dowling as a corner, but also acknowledged his free safety size- so keep an eye out for Dowling at safety as Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders enter their last years in their contracts.
So when we look at the selection of Dowling, we can see many benefits:
1) McCourty is now free to cover the slot receiver against spread offenses.
2) Bodden has a long term replacement in case he doesn't return to full health.
3) The free safety position has a little more insurance, which could open up an additional roster spot.
I'm sure a lot of people have moved on from the pick of Dowling and have learned not to question the pick, especially after the success of McCourty. Hopefully, these are a few more reasons to be happy with the pick.