Marcus Cannon’s career with the New England Patriots will be over soon. After 10 years, 134 games and three Super Bowl wins, the veteran offensive tackle will be traded to the Houston Texans later this week for a swap of selections in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds of this year’s draft.
Cannon leaving New England does not only impact the team’s offensive tackle depth and clear around $6.28 million in salary cap space, it also officially closes the book on the Patriots’ 2011 draft class. The 32-year-old, who was selected in the fifth round that spring, was its final member still with the team, but now will have to continue his career elsewhere.
With him gone, let’s take a look back at what was overall a solid draft class for New England — but one that also had its prominent misses.
OT Nate Solder (1-17): With Matt Light’s career winding down, the Patriots elected to use their first-round draft pick in an eventual replacement. A good move: Nate Solder went on to start 111 games over the following seven seasons — the vast majority at left tackle — and played a pivotal role in New England winning a pair of Super Bowls. A member of the Patriots’ Team of the 2010s, Solder left to join the New York Giants in free agency after the 2017 season.
CB Ras-I Dowling (2-33): While Nate Solder was a very good pick in the first round, the Patriots’ next selection remains one of the biggest draft busts in franchise history. Holding the valuable first pick of Day Two after a trade with the Carolina Panthers, the Patriots picked Ras-I Dowling — a defensive back who appeared in just nine games over two seasons before his release in 2013.
RB Shane Vereen (2-56): The Patriots drafted Nate Solder to replace one franchise cornerstone, they later picked Shane Vereen to replace another: receiving back Kevin Faulk was still around in 2011 but later gave the role to Vereen. The Cal product went on to appear in 49 games for the Patriots before leaving for the Giants in free agency in 2015. Along the way, he touched the football 382 times for a combined 2,383 yards and 17 touchdowns.
RB Stevan Ridley (3-73): New England double-dipped at the running back position on Day Two of the 2011 draft, selecting Stevan Ridley shortly after Shane Vereen. Whereas Vereen was more dynamic in the passing game, Ridley was an early-down runner. As such, he appeared in 57 games for the Patriots and gained 3,059 rushing yards while also scoring 25 touchdowns. Like Vereen, Ridley left in free agency after the 2014 season.
QB Ryan Mallett (3-74): Even though Ryan Mallett was able to beat out backup quarterback Brian Hoyer in 2012 for the number two spot behind Tom Brady, he never turned into a long-term option for the Patriots. Mallett appeared in four games — completing one of four passes for 25 yards and an interception — before being traded to the Houston Texans in 2014. He ended his career with eight starts, none in New England.
OT Marcus Cannon (5-138): The lone member of the Patriots’ 2011 draft class to remain with the team into the next decade, Marcus Cannon slid down draft boards after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma during the pre-draft process. He eventually overcame the disease and turned into a productive player for New England — first as a versatile backup and after 2016 as the starting right tackle.
TE Lee Smith (5-159): While Lee Smith never appeared in a game for the Patriots — he was released on roster cutdown day in 2011 and quickly claimed off waivers by the Buffalo Bills — he produced a solid career in the NFL: Smith has 137 games on his résumé between stints with the Bills and then-Oakland Raiders. Primarily a blocker, he also has caught 65 passes for 466 yards and 10 touchdowns.
DE Markell Carter (6-194): After spending his rookie season on New England’s practice squad, Markell Carter did not return to the Patriots for a second year. He later tried his luck in the Canadian and Arena Football Leagues but was only marginally successful before his retirement.
CB Malcolm Williams (7-219): A teammate of Marcus Cannon at TCU, Malcolm Williams spent two seasons with the Patriots and appeared in seven games as a special teamer and backup defensive back. He was released in 2013 and went on to spend some time in the minor leagues.
Overall, the Patriots’ 2011 draft class was a successful one: Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon turned into multi-year starters at the offensive tackle position, while Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley were valuable role players for a few seasons. Sure, the Ras-I Dowling selection was a major miss, but the group was still solid.
It even turned in a return for New England when it left: the free agency departures of Nate Solder, Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley resulted in three compensatory draft picks — a 2019 third-rounder as well as two sixth-rounders in 2016 — while the Cannon and Mallett trades netted the Patriots some improved draft position this year as well as an additional sixth-rounder in 2016, respectively.