Sebastian Vollmer‘s return helped to keep Tom Brady‘s personal secret service intact, but even more can be done to further fortify that line.
Between Vollmer, Nate Solder and Logan Mankins, the Patriots have a solid core to build around up front. Ryan Wendell adds a reliable center to that mix and Dan Connolly is a capable interior lineman. But capable doesn’t quite do it in New England anymore, making guard a prime target in April’s NFL draft.
Alabama’s Chance Warmack and North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper top the list of guards in the year’s class, but both of those guys will be long gone by the time the Patriots pick at No. 29 overall. So, the next best option available might just be Syracuse’s Justin Pugh.
Pugh played three seasons with the Orange, developing into one of the best offensive linemen in college football, but he did so at tackle. At 6-foot-4, Pugh is a tad undersized to be a tackle in the NFL and his short arms make a move inside to guard even more likely.
Pugh is a consistent and reliable player with good strength and quickness both in pass and run protection. He should be able to contribute right away and would offer the Patriots a slight improvement over Connolly in the interim with a ton of upside for the future.
Editor’s Note: NESN.com will evaluate and analyze one potential Patriots draft prospect every day from March 26 up until the start of the NFL Draft on April 25. Pugh is the third installment in that series.
Height/Weight: 6-foot-4, 307 pounds
Bench Press: 22 reps (at Syracuse Pro Day)
Stats are tough to calculate for offensive linemen, but Pugh did accumulate some numbers that are worth mentioning. In his three seasons as a starter at Syracuse, Pugh started and played in 33 of a possible 37 games for the Orange. His four absences all came at the start of the 2012 season and were a result of offseason shoulder surgery. Pugh isn’t prone to any lingering injuries, though, and his durability is a quality that should only further entice teams.
Pugh’s lack of experience inside could hinder him early in his career, but he’s such a skilled blocker that he will quickly carve a solid role out for himself. The Patriots have a cornerstone in Logan Mankins on the left side, but could use some help on the right. Veteran Dan Connolly has been consistent for them over the past few seasons, but the Patriots could still use an upgrade at the position. Third-year tackle Marcus Cannon might be the answer, but Pugh should at least be an option.
Very strong. Pugh is undersized for a tackle, which he played exclusively at Syracuse, and most teams view him as a guard at the next level. His lack of experience on the inside will stir up some questions, but his high upside should see him go in the late first or early second round. The Rams (16th and 22nd overall), Bears (20th), Bengals (21st) and Packers (26th) could all be in the market for some offensive line help ahead of the Patriots, but Pugh probably won’t be the target. So, the Patriots should be able to snag him, if he is the target, at the end of the first round.
Strengths: Quick feet and good body control benefit him in pass protection. He really attacks his assignment on run plays and gets to the second level quickly.
Weaknesses: Short arms makes getting full extension tough in pass blocking situations. He can be beaten by speed rushers, which makes the potential switch to guard all the more important.
Scout Pugh for yourself below.
Saturday: Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
Photo via Facebook/Justin Pugh