FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There are some moving parts here at Gillette Stadium, but before readers might turn in for the night, I just wanted to share a few thoughts on what unfolded for the Patriots today.
The Ryan Mallett pick in the third round is the big story for the Patriots (74th overall). That figures to be a hot topic of discussion, but before getting to that, I wanted to look at these two questions:
1. How could the Patriots not address the pass rush?
2. In a draft that Bill Belichick said was deep along the defensive line, how could the Patriots not cash in?
Entering the draft, I made the point that it would be hard to call the team's draft a success if there wasn't pass-rush/front seven help; the Patriots were 32nd in the NFL on third down last season, with opponents converting 47 percent of the time as opposing quarterbacks simply had too much time.
Yet here we are and pass-rush help hasn't arrived. Because I feel the Patriots were locked in on offensive tackle Nate Solder at No. 17, I view the key part of the draft in the late first round and early second round.
That was the place to get the front seven/pass rush help, either in the form of a defensive lineman (Muhammad Wilkerson, Cameron Heyward) or outside linebacker projection (Jabaal Sheard, Brooks Reed). Those were the four best options in my view to help the defensive front seven and the Patriots passed on them twice.
The first was in the trade with the Saints in which the team shipped No. 28 for No. 56 and a 2012 first-round pick. By making that deal, the Patriots got solid value but took themselves out of the mix for Wilkerson (30, Jets) and Heyward (31, Steelers).
That left them at 33, with the best two pass rushers for their scheme still available in Sheard and Reed.
But the Patriots instead selected cornerback Ras-I Dowling, a solid player and solid "character" guy who could form a dynamic long-term pairing with Devin McCourty if he stays healthy. It is my view that the Patriots were banking on either Sheard or Reed sliding through to 56.
It didn't happen, and I think the quality pass-rush/front seven options simply dried up at that point.
So when analyzing how the Patriots came up empty with the pass rush/front seven, this is where I view the two defining points in the draft.