Pats take OT Nate Solder at No. 17

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots selected offensive tackle Nate Solder of Colorado with the 17th overall pick in the NFL draft.

"I was sitting there hoping and praying that they pick me because that's such a great organization," Solder said via conference call.

Solder, 6-foot-8 and 319 pounds, was a three-year starter after converting from a blocking tight end prior to the 2008 season.

Last season, Solder was a unanimous All-Big 12 first team selection, and was one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy, given to college football's best offensive or interior defensive lineman.

Solder started all 12 games for Colorado in 2010 and was named the team's most valuable player, as well as the Big 12's offensive lineman of the year.

In 2009, he was named to the first team All-Big 12 after also starting all 12 games.

Solder was on the field for 2,540 out of a possible 2,542 plays on offense from the beginning of his sophomore season to the end of his senior campaign.

In 1,400 pass plays, he allowed just five quarterback sacks.

In selecting Solder, the Patriots take a big step toward revamping their offensive line, which is one of their offseason goals.

"Nate has been a solid player for Colorado," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Thursday night during a news conference," [a] left tackle and certainly there are a lot of things that he'll need to do to improve, but I feel like he's a good, talented guy, a hard-working kid, and if he can keep doing that, then I think he'll be able to contribute for us and we'll work him at left tackle."

Solder could be the team's left tackle of the future. Starting left tackle Matt Light is an unrestricted free agent.

If the Patriots like Solder more on the right side, they could flip third-year pro Sebastian Vollmer to left tackle.

Solder was featured in ESPNBoston.com's "10 possible Patriots" series because he fits the profile of what the Patriots look for in an offensive lineman. He was a team captain. Like Bruce Armstrong, the Patriots' Hall of Fame tackle from the 1980s and 1990s, Solder made the transition from tight end to offensive tackle and is considered a solid athlete for his size.

The Patriots had to feel good entering this draft, knowing that the strength of the draft matched up nicely with their top areas of need -- offensive line, defensive line and running back. The pick might disappoint those who were looking for a defender to bolster the pass rush, such as Cal's Cameron Jordan, but the Patriots must feel the depth in that area is such that they can address it later.

The offensive line is also in transition, requiring an influx of youth, and this gives respected line coach Dante Scarnecchia a prized pupil to work with.

Solder said Scarnecchia came out to visit him Monday in Leadville, Colo.

"He's an unbelievable coach, one of the best in the NFL and that was completely obvious when I met with him," Solder said.

Added Solder: "I have a lot to work on and the great thing about that is that I'm a coachable player and Coach Scarnecchia and Coach Belichick and the whole staff is great to play for."

The Patriots also possessed the No. 28 selection of the first round entering the draft, but opted to trade that pick to the New Orleans in exchange for the Saints' 2011 second-rounder (56th overall) and 2012 first-rounder.

The Saints turned around and selected running back Mark Ingram at No. 28.

If Ingram becomes a star, perhaps the Patriots will look back and regret this two-for-one move, which has been an annual part of their draft-day dealings -- moving down in the current year to pick up a prime selection the following year. How the Patriots address the running back spot later in this draft will also be part of the analysis.

"We thought it was a good value for the pick and we feel like there are players on the board that will give us good value at our picks that we have tomorrow," Belichick said during a news conference Thursday night. "We certainly gave up something in moving back, but we felt like what we got in return for that was beneficial to the organization and the team.

Meanwhile, this sets up a big second round for the Patriots in which they figure to address the defense -- with the first pick of the round (No. 33), followed by Nos. 56 and 60. There are several good defensive players on the board. The Patriots also have two third-round picks (Nos. 74 and 92).

At this point, with the void on defense left unfilled, it's an incomplete picture.

Friday, it should come into sharper focus.

The Patriots also have a fourth-rounder (No. 125), a fifth-rounder (No. 159) and a sixth-rounder (No. 193) in this year's draft.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Mike Rodak contributed to this report.