Would the Patriots do what was expected, or something a bit out-of-the-box? In the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, they did both.
The latter came first.
It almost looked like New England's pass rusher extraordinaire was falling right into the Patriots' lap. North Carolina's Robert Quinn was available until the Rams selected him with the 14th overall pick. Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan went two picks later, though, to the Redskins.
The Patriots options for an impact player on defense quickly diminished. So, they went with a position of need on the other side of the ball. With the 17th overall pick, New England chose Colorado left tackle Nate Solder (6-8, 315).
But the team wasn't done ... or so it seemed. There was still significant talent on the defensive line when the Patriots' next pick, 28 overall, arrived, but Bill Belichick decided to do what he has done so many times before - trade down and out of the first round. The Patriots traded 28 to New Orleans for the Saints' second-rounder in this draft (56 overall) and a 2012 first-round selection.
New England still has four picks in the first two rounds, as Belichick noted in his post-first-round comments to reporters, but now the team has added value with the addition of the pick in next year's draft, something Belichick always covets and a point he reiterated in his media address.
In Solder, a former tight end who gained weight in college and converted to offensive line, the Patriots have a player who might not be as versatile as their o-lineman have historically been.
"Left tackle will be his position in the NFL," Belichick adamantly stated.
As you might expect, the Patriots have done their homework on Solder. Belichick acknowledged that newly acquired assistant strength and conditioning Moses Cabrera, who worked at Colorado during Solder's time there, gave the Patriots scouts valuable insight, and just this past Monday, New England's o-line coach, Dante Scarnecchia, went out west to work Solder out. Clearly, the team liked what it saw.
"Nate was a player that we've been on for a long time," Belichick continued. "Certainly there are a lot of things that he'll need to do to improve, but he's a talented guy, hard-working kid. If he keeps doing that, he'll be able to contribute for us. We'll work him at left tackle.
"You can see Nate's athleticism. [He] was a three-sport athlete in high school. Certainly when you watch him play - watch him pull - for a big guy, he moves well. Even though he's put on the weight, going from 280 to 315 ... athletically, he still handles himself well."
A clearly thrilled Solder was nonetheless somewhat at a loss for words during his introductory conference call with New England reporters. He revealed that he hadn't had much direct contact with the Patriots during the pre-draft process, but that Scarnecchia's recent visit sold him on his new employer.
"He's an unbelievable coach, one of the best in the NFL and that was completely obvious when I met with him. And I look forward to the opportunity to play with him ... all the great things I heard about him were confirmed. I could tell he was an absolutely great coach and I was hoping and praying - though I didn't want to put in my mind to go there, but I'm so honored to be there."
What this pick means for the future of incumbent left tackle Matt Light, who's scheduled to become a free agent once the NFL league year begins (pending the resolution of the labor negotiations and litigation), remains unclear. However, Solder wasn't taking anything for granted when the subject came up.
"I know this: competition makes everyone better," Solder declared, "so, that's going to be a great opportunity. I don't want anything given to me. I want to earn everything I get."
So, now the Patriots are poised to begin Day 2 of the draft with the first selection in the second round. New England currently owns the 33rd, 56th, and 60th overall choices in Round 2, plus the 74th and 92nd overall selections in Round 3. Belichick told reporters that he's already received interest from a few teams about possibly making a deal.
"We'll just play it by ear," he said. "But I think right now, the most important thing for us is to kind of regroup, get a good night's rest, take stock of everything, reassess the board, take a look at ourselves, take a look at what some of the teams around us might be doing, and see what happens."
The draft resumes Friday night at 6 with Rounds 2 and 3; 4 through 7 will take place Saturday, the final day of picking, beginning at noon.