On football

Every second counts

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By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / April 29, 2011

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In the second round Bill Belichick trusts.

We should know that by now.

Should Patriots fans, who last night saw their dreams of beefing up a leaky defense in the first round of the NFL draft go unfulfilled, do the same?

You might have gone to bed last night disappointed, but the truth is nobody — not even the H.C. of the New England Patriots — knows if that was the right plan. We have to wait and see.

If the Patriots end their streak of three seasons without a playoff victory, then it’s hard to doubt the plan.

After taking well-respected Colorado offensive tackle Nate Solder with the 17th overall pick, the Patriots then traded out of the 28th position with the New Orleans Saints.

In return, the Patriots got a first-round pick next year — likely low — and a second-round pick this year (No. 56).

So heading into tonight, the Patriots have three picks in the second round and two in the third.

“We thought it was good value for the pick and we feel like there are good players on the board that would give us good value at our picks that we have,’’ Belichick said. “We certainly gave up something in moving back but we felt like what we got in return for that was beneficial for the organization and the team.’’

There’s no question that without a rookie wage scale, there is enormous value in the second round.

But what if there is one this year. Or next year? The value of picking in the second round definitely goes down.

It’s hard to argue with what the Patriots have done in the second round under Belichick. Matt Light was drafted there, as was Deion Branch.

In 2009, the Patriots got safety Patrick Chung, nose tackle Ron Brace, cornerback Darius Butler, and tackle Sebastian Vollmer.

Last year it was tight end Rob Gronkowski, and linebackers Jermaine Cunningham and Brandon Spikes.

Light and Branch have Super Bowl rings. Gronkowski and Vollmer are in the upper echelon at their position, and indications are Spikes is an ascending player, albeit for only two downs. Chung and Brace have a chance to be when fully healthy. The Patriots are still waiting on Butler.

Even when you consider the early second-round flameouts under Belichick — Adrian Klemm (2000), Bethel Johnson (’03), Chad Jackson (’06), and Terrence Wheatley (’08) — that’s a good average, and that’s what the Patriots’ draft strategy is all about.

The draft is a crapshoot, even for the men who do this for a living. The more rounds you have in your gun, the better chance you have at hitting something.

And the Patriots continue to stock their guns.

The downside of the Patriots’ strategy is that they lose out on the elite athletic prospects. Players go in the first round for a reason. They have a much better success rate to become starters.

That’s the plan for Solder, who Belichick said will be a left tackle.

It was an unsexy — but certainly valid — pick.

Coming off a season in which the Patriots had the worst third-down defense in the league and had trouble pressuring the quarterback, there were some impact players to be had.

The Patriots could have traded up and taken North Carolina outside linebacker Robert Quinn, who lasted until the 14th pick.

At 17, they could have taken versatile California end Cameron Jordan, the prospect most NFL people expected the Patriots to take.

Both would have helped.

In the end, Belichick thought it would be good business to keep quarterback Tom Brady protected.

The pick certainly doesn’t scream excitement but it’s hard to find fault in the logic.

Solder was rated the No. 2 offensive tackle on many draft boards. Tyron Smith, taken by the Cowboys with the ninth pick, was No. 1. Solder was ahead of local product Anthony Castonzo (Boston College) and Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi.

Solder, who entered college as a 230-pound tight end, is 6 feet 8 inches and 319 pounds. His arms measure 35 1/2 inches. And his athletic ability — a chief concern of Patriots offensive line guru Dante Scarnecchia — is off the charts with a 32-inch vertical jump (second among tackles at the combine) and a 4.96 40-yard dash (first).

His character is rated even better.

“He’s a mountain of a man who moves well, can slide well, and can play the right side as well,’’ Atlanta general manager and former Patriots personnel director Thomas Dimitroff told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Combine that with the fact he’s a top-notch character guy and it’s a nice package.’’

And he can help protect The Franchise.

Veteran left tackle Matt Light is an unrestricted free agent. Vollmer is entrenched on the right side. But after that, the Patriots don’t have much at tackle.

So Solder makes perfect sense.

Still, fans will take one look at the two picks by the Saints — Jordan at No. 24 and Alabama running back Mark Ingram at No. 28 — and wonder why those two players aren’t Patriots.

In a poll of five NFL personnel executives — some rivals of New England — Jordan was the player they most feared the Patriots taking because of his versatility and how well he would fit in the defensive scheme.

Ingram wasn’t far behind because of the dimension he would add to the Patriots’ offense.

But if there’s still talent left on the board. Da’Quan Bowers (Clemson), Christian Ballard (Iowa), Marvin Austin (North Carolina), and Jarvis Jenkins (Clemson) are among the ends still available.

Akeem Ayers (UCLA), Justin Houston (Georgia), Brooks Reed (Arizona), Jabaal Sheard (Pittsburgh), and Martez Wilson (Illinois) are outside linebackers with talent.

Other positions are loaded as well.

Just like every other draft, we’ll have to see how the plan turns out.

With a team on the brink of being great, this one means more than others.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard.

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