FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few quick-hit thoughts now that the Patriots have concluded making their picks in the 2011 draft, with more to come after Bill Belichick's wrap-up news conference:
1. Cornerback over pass-rusher the defining part of draft. Belichick's view of his young defense is obviously a little different than the majority of analysts and a vocal part of the fan base who have been calling for the team to select a pass-rusher. The team was in great position to select some of the top rushers this year, but in this view, the pick of cornerback Ras-I Dowling at No. 33 was the clincher that they would come up empty. Once the Patriots did that, they took themselves out of the running for any of the top rushers and it didn't make sense to force the need after that. Considering that Belichick has invested high picks in each of the last four years at cornerback (Terrence Wheatley, 2008; Darius Butler, 2009; Devin McCourty, 2010; Dowling, 2011) -- as well as a significant free-agent contract (Leigh Bodden) -- this was the one decision that stood out in the draft. Final analysis: Belichick loves drafting/collecting cornerbacks; not so much outside linebackers.
2. Don't see a big free-agent splash ahead. Some have predicted that perhaps Belichick has a big plan in free agency to address the outside linebacker spot. I see it a bit differently, and think his decision-making in this draft is more a vote of confidence in players such as Jermaine Cunningham, Tully Banta-Cain and Rob Ninkovich, and perhaps even Eric Moore. I don't see a big signing ahead. Belichick said late Friday night that he thinks some of the team's younger players will progress, and a brighter spotlight now shines on that projected improvement.
3. Revamped running game. When considering that the Patriots drafted a big left tackle (6-foot-8, 319-pound Nate Solder), a mammoth right guard (6-foot-5, 358-pound Marcus Cannon), a blocking tight end (6-foot-6, 266-pound Lee Smith) and two running backs (Shane Vereen; Stevan Ridley), this was a draft that could potentially lead to some scheme alterations for the offense. Perhaps we'll be seeing some more balance, with the Patriots now having four solid backs, all of whom can make plays in different ways.