New England Patriots

L-R: Texas A&M G Kenyon Green, Ohio State T Nicholas Petit-Frere (Getty Images)

  • Recent history tells us the odds are high the Patriots select at least one offensive lineman in this year’s NFL Draft. They’ve done so in 17 of the 22 drafts under Bill Belichick, including each of the last eight. There’s been 14 occasions where they’ve taken multiple linemen, including six times in the last eight years.

    On top of that, both tackle and guard are needs in the short and long term. The departures of Shaq Mason and Ted Karras leave at least one immediate need at guard (Michael Onwenu projects to fill the other spot), as well as less depth overall at the position. At tackle, Isaiah Wynn is entering a contract year and Trent Brown has struggled to stay healthy. It’s hard to project either into a long-term role right now.

    The Patriots are in the early stages of what could be a rework of the offensive line, and this draft could lay the foundation for that reset. All of that considered, this will be our deepest positional preview yet. Let’s go through the big names and some deeper players who stand out as fits for the Patriots.

  • Reaches

    Sep 18, 2021; Gainesville, Florida, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman Evan Neal (73) against the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Sep 18, 2021; Gainesville, Florida, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman Evan Neal (73) against the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Offensive line is not a position the Patriots generally move up for in the draft. They’ve had so much success developing players at the position – even after the retirement of long time offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia – that it simply makes more sense for them to let the board come to them, and find the most coachable players with a high floor fall to them.

    That being said, it’s been a trend-breaking couple of years for the Patriots. Is this the year they fly up the board to grab one of the elite blockers in the draft?

    There are three tackles currently expected to go in the top 10 in Alabama’s Evan Neal, North Carolina State’s Ikem Ekwonu, and Mississippi State’s Charles Cross. All have franchise left tackle potential, and it would take a significant investment from the Patriots to get any of the three.

    On the interior, Tyler Linderbaum of Iowa is the top player in this class. His primary position is center, where the Patriots have David Andrews locked up for three more years. However, it’s not unrealistic to think Linderbaum could play some guard as well. He’s expected to go in the middle of the first round.

  • First-round tackles

    Feb 1, 2022; Mobile, AL, USA; National offensive lineman Bernhard Raimann of Central Michigan (76) works with a coach during National practice for the 2022 Senior Bowl at Hancock Whitney Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

    Feb 1, 2022; Mobile, AL, USA; National offensive lineman Bernhard Raimann of Central Michigan (76) works with a coach during National practice for the 2022 Senior Bowl at Hancock Whitney Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

    Left tackle has been an incredibly sturdy position for the Patriots under Belichick. Outside of injury situations, just three players have held the spot down in New England since 2000 in Matt Light, Nate Solder, and Isaiah Wynn. Part of the reason the Patriots have had that stability is planning ahead at the position. With Wynn in a contract year, is it time to get ahead of things again?

    The three players who have held the spot all had a number of things in common. They were all high draft picks (Solder and Wynn went in the first round, Light early in the second), and were all Senior Bowl participants. As luck would have it, there are two left tackles expected to go in the first round this year that fit that mold.

    Trevor Penning of Northern Iowa has seen his stock shoot up since his strong Senior Bowl performance that ended with him being voted Offensive Lineman of the Week for his team. Penning moves well at 6-foot-7, 325 pounds, and plays with a mean aggression at the point of attack. Right now, it feels like a 50/50 shot he’s on the board at 21.

    If Penning does go just before the Patriots pick, Bernhard Raimann of Central Michigan is a similar player stylistically who is a late-first to early-second round talent. A converted tight end (like Nate Solder), Raimann isn’t as big at 6-foot-6, 303 pounds but is one of the most athletic tackles in this draft. Being new to the position, his skillset is still relatively raw, but his strength and athleticism hint at tremendous upside. With Wynn still under contract, the team should be able to let him continue to develop for a year behind the scenes.

  • First-round guards

    Nov 20, 2021; Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, USA; Boston College Eagles offensive lineman Zion Johnson (77) against the Florida State Seminoles during the second half at Alumni Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 20, 2021; Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, USA; Boston College Eagles offensive lineman Zion Johnson (77) against the Florida State Seminoles during the second half at Alumni Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    While the need at tackle is a two-year projection, the need for a starting guard is immediate. There are a handful of players currently on the roster expected to compete for the job in camp, but if the Patriots were to add a blue chip prospect he’d likely immediately become the favorite to win the competition.

    There are two versatile guards expected to go in the 20’s in Boston College’s Zion Johnson and Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green. Both project as fits for the Patriots.

    Johnson is on the smaller side for the guard position at 6-foot-3, 312 pounds, yet it pops how physical he is at the point of attack. Often, Johnson is driving his assignment back as much as he’d holding them up. After two years at Davidson, where he played left tackle, Johnson transferred to BC. He played one season at tackle with the Eagles, then moved inside to guard where he was named to an All-ACC team in 2020 and 2021.

    Between not picking up football until high school (he was a zero-star recruit) and moving positions, Johnson still has a lot of room to grow his game. Given the floor he’s working with coming out of college, that makes him a very exciting prospect.

    Green is a combo guard who is on the bigger side at 6-foot-4, 323 pounds. A former five-star recruit, his game is very technically sound after making 35 starts for the Aggies over three years. He moves well for his size, and that athleticism would play well as a left guard in the Patriots’ offense. Like Johnson, he plays the game as a mauler and can move defenders just as easily as he can simply block them.

  • Second round

    LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY - SEPTEMBER 18: Darian Kinnard #70 of the Kentucky Wildcats against Chattanooga Mocs at Kroger Field on September 18, 2021 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

    LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY – SEPTEMBER 18: Darian Kinnard #70 of the Kentucky Wildcats against Chattanooga Mocs at Kroger Field on September 18, 2021 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

    From here on out, we’re going to combine tackles and guards and just sort by different ranges in the draft. At this point, there’s a handful of players that can be considered for both spots, and may be viewed as tackles by some teams or guards by others. Those are the kind of players the Patriots generally target, looking for guys who can play three or four different positions to boost depth without using up too many roster spots.

    That being said, let’s begin here with Kentucky’s Darian Kinnard. Kinnard played right tackle for Kentucky’s successful run-heavy offense, but his skillset may be better suited for guard in the NFL. His Combine weigh in (6-foot-5, 322 pounds) showed he’s lost some weight since the season, and he may be preparing for that to be his role. If he is indeed going to be a guard, he projects to be an NFL-ready space-clearer in the running game, with the potential to come along as a pass blocker.

    Tyler Smith out of Tulsa is another player who could play right tackle or on the interior, but when it comes to the Patriots he would likely be a right guard. At 6-foot-5, 324 pounds he’s described as ‘nasty’ and a ‘tone setter.’ If anything, he may be too aggressive right now, but with the right coaching he projects as a starting caliber player, who can contribute as a three-position backup right away.

    In terms of pure tackles, Daniel Faalele from Minnesota is one of the more interesting prospects in this draft. He’s absolutely massive, checking in at the Combine at 6-foot-8, 384 pounds. Coming from Australia, he’s only played the sport since 2016 so his game is still raw, but his upside is as big as he is. Given the Patriots’ current tackle situation, they could afford to give him a redshirt year and coach him up, if they don’t mind a delayed return-on-investment on a top-60 pick.

    The other high-risk, high-reward tackle in this range is Nicholas Petit-Frere of out Ohio State. Petit-Frere flashed NFL-caliber ability at times for the Buckeyes, but not consistently enough to earn a first-round grade. He’s a smaller (6-foot-5, 316 pounds), more athletic tackle who would need to put on a bit of mass at the next level, but still would project as a left tackle in New England.

  • Third round

    ATHENS, GA - OCTOBER 16: Jamaree Salyer #69 of the Georgia Bulldogs reacts after a touchdown is scored in the first half against the Kentucky Wildcats at Sanford Stadium on October 16, 2021 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

    ATHENS, GA – OCTOBER 16: Jamaree Salyer #69 of the Georgia Bulldogs reacts after a touchdown is scored in the first half against the Kentucky Wildcats at Sanford Stadium on October 16, 2021 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

    If the Patriots are looking to find their starting guard in the draft with a value pick, they could target Dylan Parham out of Memphis. Parham may fall a bit because of his size (6-foot-3, 311 pounds), but his game is so technically sound, he should be able to close the gap once he gets in an NFL weight room. A four-year starter for the Tigers, Parham has had no issues as a run blocker and continues to develop in pass pro.

    At tackle Washington State’s Abraham Lucas is more of a project player. At 6-foot-6, 315 pounds he’s built like a left tackle in terms of the Patriots’ system but plays like a right tackle, his college position. That true swing-tackle versatility can be hard to find, which could increase his value even if a team doesn’t project him to reach his ceiling.

    Now back to the multi-positional linemen, starting with Jamaree Salyer of Georgia. Salyer played all five offensive line positions at Georgia, and projects to be a combo guard with right tackle flexibility in the NFL. He already plays at an NFL size at 6-foot-3, 321 pounds. Salyer is at his best as a pass blocker, as he showed in the Bulldogs’ CFB semifinal game against Michigan when he played a key role in stonewalling projected first-round pass rushers Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo.

    Sean Rhyan was a three-year starter at left tackle for UCLA, and projects to functionally play the position in the NFL, but his real upside appears to be at guard. Ryan’s size (6-foot-5, 321 pounds), strong footwork, and experience playing on the outside could make him a very effective puller at guard. The Patriots could also use him as a hybrid guard and third tackle, similar to the role Michael Onwenu had last year.

     

  • Early Day 3

    UL sophomore Max Mitchell (74) playing left tackle in a game against Mississippi State at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Michael O. Curley/Special to the Advertiser, Morristown Daily Record via Imagn Content Services)

    UL sophomore Max Mitchell (74) playing left tackle in a game against Mississippi State at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Michael O. Curley/Special to the Advertiser, Morristown Daily Record via Imagn Content Services)

    Now we’re getting into the sweet spot for the Patriots. Of the 36 linemen drafted by the Patriots since Belichick arrived in 2000, 27 were selected beyond the 99th pick. In fact, the team has only drafted three linemen in the top 100 in the last 10 years (Isaiah Wynn 23rd overall in 2018, Antonio Garcia 85th overall in 2017, and Joe Thuney 78th overall in 2016).

    Cole Strange of Chattanooga offers three-position versality from left tackle to center. He was primarily a left guard in college, but got plenty of work snapping at the Senior Bowl. His football IQ and instincts could make him a potential four-position backup at the next level, with room to grow into a starting guard. However, teams will be weary of the fact he turns 24 before the season starts, which could limit his ceiling.

    At tackle, Max Mitchell has the makings of a true swing tackle. A four-year contributor at Louisiana, Mitchell seemed to play his best against Power Five opponents. He moves very well for a lineman, but the question will be how that translates after he adds the size needed at the pro level (he measured 6-foot-6, 307 pounds at the combine).

  • Late Day 3

    Purdue linebacker Kieren Douglas (43) is blocked by Illinois offensive lineman Vederian Lowe (79) during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021 at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette. (Nikos Frazier / Journal & Courier via Imagn Content Services, LLC)

    Purdue linebacker Kieren Douglas (43) is blocked by Illinois offensive lineman Vederian Lowe (79) during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021 at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette. (Nikos Frazier / Journal & Courier via Imagn Content Services, LLC)

    Starting with the versatile linemen again, and it doesn’t get much more versatile in this draft than Tennessee’s Cade Mays. Mays has logged significant playing time at all five offensive line positions in a collegiate career split between two programs (he transferred from Georgia before the 2020 season). He has the experience to be a backup guard and center Day 1 in the NFL, with a chance to develop into a starting guard if he can improve his footwork.

    NFL teams will always a room for high IQ, high-motor players, especially on the offensive line. That should help Tulsa’s Chris Paul, who is yet another college tackle projected to switch to guard at the next level. Paul’s size (6-foot-4, 323 pounds) and and hard-nosed playing style would be right at home on the interior of the Patriots’ offensive line, and he could have starter upside working with the coaching staff in New England.

    Cam Jurgens was a three-year starter at center at Nebraska, and should offer some guard versatility. Last season, Belichick touted the pre-snap communication advantage gained by having two true centers (Andrews and Karras) on the field at the same time. Taking a true center like Jurgens – who the Patriots met with in the pre-draft process – given his experience making calls at the line of scrimmage and converting him to guard could replicate that effect.

    The Patriots have a history of targeting players who show tremendous growth throughout their collegiate careers. That could lead them to Vederian Lowe out of Illinois. Lowe made great strides under former Patriots assistant coach Bret Bielema in 2021, with more room to improve his game. He’s a swing tackle prospect with higher upside on the left side. Late on Day 3, Lowe is exactly the kind of project player teams look for.

    Last time the Patriots took a Michigan lineman late on Day 3, they ended up with a steal in Michael Onwenu. The lone Michigan lineman expected to go in this draft, Andrew Stueber, is also projected to go in that range. A 6-foot-7, 325 pound right tackle, Stueber’s technique and physicality help make up for a relative lack of athleticism. He could come into the league and be a backup-caliber tackle quickly.

  • UDFAs

    Dec 31, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide tackle Chris Owens (79) in action against the Cincinnati Bearcats during the 2021 Cotton Bowl college football CFP national semifinal game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    Dec 31, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide tackle Chris Owens (79) in action against the Cincinnati Bearcats during the 2021 Cotton Bowl college football CFP national semifinal game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    Evan Neal may be out of the Patriots’ reach, but there’s another Alabama lineman they could grab late in the draft or as a priority UDFA. Chris Owens was a six-year player and three-year starter for the Tide, playing snaps at tackle, guard, and center. He’ll bring that versatility to an NFL depth chart.

    At tackle, Ryan Van Demark was a four-year starter at UConn, playing three seasons at left tackle. He’s got the upper body push to contribute as a run blocker at 6-foot-5, 302 pounds, and will benefit from NFL coaches helping with his footwork. Van Demark was a team captain in 2021.

    James Empey out of BYU is primarily a center, but should be a center/guard in the NFL. A four-year starter, Empey is a technically sound player who’s strength is in run blocking. However, his lack of athleticism limits his ceiling. His dad Mike also played at BYU was was the team’s offensive line coach early in James’ career.