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They tinkered with their prototype

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By Greg A. Bedard
May 1, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH — Love it or hate it — and the verdict on who’s right won’t be in for two to three years no matter how many outside linebackers you had mocked in the second and third rounds — the Patriots’ 2011 draft will be known for being unpredictable in certain respects, but conventional (for Bill Belichick) as well.

The Patriots continued to address positions — six of nine will help the league’s top offense — and pick players (hello, Ryan Mallett) that had even the nerdiest draftniks perplexed.

Obscure TCU cornerback Malcolm Williams, who didn’t start for the Horned Frogs, was himself surprised the Patriots called his cellphone in the seventh round.

Belichick being Belichick. It wouldn’t be surprising if he went into every draft with the goal of ruining every mock draft in America.

But a few themes developed as well.

That Patriots continued to deal, making two trades that yielded picks next year. The Patriots entered Thursday with just five picks in 2012. You knew that wasn’t going to sit well, and it didn’t.

The Patriots now have two first-round and two second-round picks in 2012.

And the team also gained flexibility in regards to free agency, whenever it commences. No one knows what the rules will be. And there’s a small chance things might be turned upside down and mechanisms like the franchise tag and restricted free agency could be altered.

Veteran left tackle Matt Light is an unrestricted free agent. Nate Solder became the first tackle picked by Belichick in the first round with the Patriots.

Running backs Fred Taylor, Kevin Faulk, and Sammy Morris are unrestricted and aging. Enter Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley. The latter could fill Morris’s short-yardage role.

Guards Logan Mankins (franchise tag) and Quinn Ojinnaka (unrestricted) are free agents. TCU lineman Marcus Cannon can be plugged in.

Blocking tight end Alge Crumpler, 33, will be a free agent after next season. Lee Smith out of Marshall has a similar skill set.

Come what may on the labor front, the Patriots at least have given themselves options.

“That depends on how [the draft picks] perform,’’ Belichick said. “It depends on what they can do. We hope it goes well, but we all know it doesn’t always work out that way.’’

The Patriots also drafted two cornerbacks, a position that requires depth with the increase in nickel and dime packages.

The Patriots strayed outside their physical positional profiles more in this draft than in the past. Some of those previous picks fit in. Some didn’t. Those who didn’t serve as examples for why the Patriots should stick to their prototype.

Here’s a look at how each pick this year measures up:

■Offensive tackle Nate Solder: Tallest player ever drafted by Belichick with the Patriots at 6 feet 8 1/4 inches. His bench press of 21 was low but the Patriots don’t care about that. His arm length (35.5 inches) is the longest by more than an inch. Solder’s 40 time (4.96) and short shuttle (4.34) were the fastest of any lineman drafted by the Patriots and a testament to his athletic ability. Broad jump and three-cone results were also in the top three. Wonderlic score of 20 is on the lower end for this traditionally bright group.

■Cornerback Ras-I Dowling: The Virginia product is the tallest cornerback (6-1 1/2) ever drafted by Belichick with the Patriots. He’s an inch taller than the previous best, Christian Morton. Morton didn’t measure up in other areas. Dowling does. His vertical jump, 40-yard dash, short shuttle, and three-cone drill all fall in with other draft picks. Dowling’s Wonderlic score of 15 is a little below the positional average.

■Running back Shane Vereen: Taken out of Cal, Vereen is the highest-drafted running back outside of Laurence Maroney. Vereen tied Justise Hairston as the lightest back taken (210). Vereen’s 40 time (4.49) trails only Antwoine Womack (4.46) and Maroney (4.48) at the position. Vereen had the shortest broad jump but his Wonderlic score (23) was well above average. Strongest running back taken by Belichick (31 bench press reps).

■Running back Stevan Ridley: While almost the same height as Vereen (5-11), Ridley is the heaviest (225) ever drafted. In many ways, he’s similar to Cedric Cobbs, except Ridley is faster (4.65 to 4.79) in the 40. Wonderlic score was 16.

■Quarterback Ryan Mallet: A value pick in the third round, he’s the tallest (6-7), heaviest (253), and slowest (5.37) QB drafted by Belichick. But his long arms, big hands, and surprising broad jump (8-7) all fit the profile. Wonderlic score of 26 is well above the leaguewide average for all positions (19).

■Offensive lineman Marcus Cannon: The heaviest player (358) Belichick has drafted, regardless of position, though it remains to be seen what effect Cannon’s chemotherapy will have long term. It’s not immediately known what position Cannon will play — guard or tackle — but he is a good athlete despite his size, which is similar to Logan Mankins and Dan Stevenson at guard. Bench press (33) is the most of any Patriots lineman. Surprisingly good vertical (30.5) and broad jump (8-9) for his size. Shows explosion, which the Patriots like. Wonderlic score of 28 at the Patriots’ smartest position.

■Tight end Lee Smith: Second-tallest (6-5 1/2) and the heaviest (266) at the position. Also has the longest arms (34.4). Disappointing 29-inch vertical jump is well below average for the position. Also the slowest (4.94) tight end drafted by Belichick though his short shuttle and three-cone drill compared. Shows good short-area quickness.

■Outside linebacker Markell Carter: Fits the profile perfectly at 6-4, 252 with long arms (34.6) and large hands (10). Will need to get stronger; his 17 reps on the bench press are the low at the position. Carter’s 4.70 speed is above average for the position as is his vertical jump (35). Both are important to the Patriots at the position.

■Cornerback Malcolm Williams: Compares with Ellis Hobbs, Terrence Wheatley, and Jonathan Wilhite as the shortest cornerbacks, in the 5-9 range. Only Asante Samuel and Mike Richardson had slower 40 times (4.47). And his below-average short shuttle and three-cone times indicate Williams faces an uphill battle. But his 40-inch vertical is up there with the best the Patriots have produced.

The Patriots typically move outside their physical profiles the later the draft goes, and this year was no exception.

But in crucial areas, the team stuck to the prototype.

It has served them well in the past. Even if some picks disappointed the fan base, this draft should help the team now — with free agency — and in the future.

That’s also predictable.

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

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