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New England Patriots Links 5/11/11 - RB Stevan Ridley: Big, Tough, Instinctive

Christopher Price notes Patriots rookie RB Stevan Ridley has proven he knows how to take advantage of an opportunity and perform.

"We put Stevan in, and two plays later, he scores," former LSU running backs coach Larry Porter said of Ridley, who didn’t even dress for the first seven games of the season as a sophomore. "Normally, over the course of the week, you don’t get many reps as a backup. But for him to come in totally focused and go in and not miss a beat, that was really a tribute to him and his hard work and him seizing control of an opportunity."

"They have always kind of rotated that backs through there at LSU, [but] he’s been a very proactive guy both in the running game and in the passing game," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick shortly after New England chose Ridley. "He’s a bigger, physical back, good running style, gets a lot of tough yards."

"The Patriots are getting a young man who is tough," Porter said. "For a big back, he has great vision. He’s instinctive, with good feet and good hands. He was a baseball player in high school, and you can see that he has good hands. He’s got a passion for the game that I’ve only seen in a few players."

"I’ve coached a bunch of good backs — [Jacob] Hester, [Joseph] Addai, Tatum Bell — and they all bring their own style to the field," said Porter, who is currently the head football coach at Memphis. "Stevan is really a unique guy in terms of his style of play. I don’t think it would be fair to compare him to anybody. He’s unique."

"He understands the situation, and he’s been well-trained for that. That franchise has had the opportunity to have a number of Louisiana State players in their program, which is a good thing for Stevan," Porter said. "I think the Patriots are getting a guy the community will embrace. I see him as a guy who is very active in the community. That organization does a phenomenal job of developing players, and that’s the environment he needs to be in. I think it’s a great setup for him, because he’s only just started to develop."

Jonathan Comey (Cold Hard Football Facts) Decade in the making: The ultimate NFL draft grades.

When it was all said and done, there was an easy and not-so-surprising answer: the New England Patriots.

They had the second-most Pro Bowlers, 11, trailing only San Diego (12). They had the most players with a career "Approximate Value" of 50+ as determined by Pro Football Reference’s formula that takes into account position, playing time, team success and production (read more about it here). They had the second-most players with career AV of 20 or better. They were tied for third in terms of draftees still active in the league in 2010.

And they did it despite having the best record in the league over that decade, which means having the least amount of actual draft power. It’s pretty remarkable feat, and the reason that guys like Mel Kiper and Peter King couched their criticisms of the Patriots’ 2011 draft by adding "but it’s the Patriots, so it’ll probably work out OK."

The Valedictorian:  New England (A)

Pro Bowlers: 11 (2nd) Draftees Active in 2010: 46 (t-3rd) Players with 50+ Career AV: 7 (1st) Players with 20+ Career AV: 22 (t-1st) Best Pick: CB Asante Samuel (4th round, 2003) Worst Pick: WR Chad Jackson (2nd round, 2006)

Summary: The Patriots got at least one impact player in each of their 10 drafts from 2001-2010, and maybe the biggest tribute to their ability to identify top talent is that all 10 of their No. 1 picks were still playing in the league last year along with 11 of their 14 No. 2s. This bodes well for 2011 draftees Nate Solder, Ras-I Dowling and Shane Vereen.