With the 17th overall pick, the Patriots picked a player they hope to be their left tackle of the future, Colorado's Nate Solder. The former tight end could be the next blind-side tackle protecting Tom Brady when Matt Light's time in Foxborough is up. Light is a free agent and Sebastian Vollmer may be better-suited to remain on the right side. Here is PFW draft expert Nolan Nawrocki's scouting report on Solder from his 2011 Draft Preview book:
Notes: Also earned letters in basketball (three) and baseball (two). High school tight end-linebacker who totaled 62 receptions for 899 yards (14.5-yard average) with 256 tackles and six sacks in his career. Was recruited as a 230-pound TE prospect, redshirting in 2006 while earning the Special-Teams Scout Award. Was used as a blocking tight end in '07, playing in all 13 games (four starts) and tallying 3-50-0 (16.7). Also made three special-teams tackles. Made the move to left tackle in '08 and started all 12 games, posting 69 knockdowns while grading out at 80 percent or better nine times (allowed just one sack). Started all 14 games in '09 and graded out at 90 percent with a team-best 97 knockdowns and seven TD blocks. Posted the strongest season by a CU offensive lineman since Andre Gurode in 2001 - was a finalist for the Outland Trophy and named the team MVP after starting all 12 games at left tackle, grading out at 94.3 percent, racking up a team-high 142 knockdowns and notching 10 TD blocks while being flagged just once for a penalty. Allowed five sacks and 21 pressures in 1,400 career passing plays. Team captain.
Positives: Has excellent size with long arms and a frame to still grow into. Carries his weight well and still has the movement skills of a tight end, outperforming many in the 20-yard shuttle (4.34) at the Combine, where he led all offensive tackles. Very athletic with good body control and balance. Fluid on the move — can work up a level and eliminate linebackers. Outstanding character. Worked very hard to bulk up and is dedicated to improvement — the game is important to him. Unselfish, business-like, coachable, team player.
Negatives: Plays too tall, cannot handle power and too often oversets and gives up the inside. Struggles to generate movement off the line. Struggles to sink his hips and counter. Could always have leverage and core strength deficiencies given his length. Not strong-handed and does not use his hands with any authority. Does not play with substance and can be overpowered and outquicked to the inside. Only bench-pressed 225 pounds 21 times and needs to get stronger. Marginal Senior Bowl performance - too often was beat in practice and in the game, was disappointing in one-on-one drills and did not handle kicking inside well.
Summary: A converted tight end who has gradually stacked on weight and become more comfortable at tackle, Solder showed improvement late in the season but is still very much a project in the works, lacks the core strength to handle power and will require patience in the pros. Compares favorably to Robert Gallery, although he does have longer levers.
NFL projection: First-round pick.