As each year’s NFL draft winds past the fourth round, most fans are lucky to have heard of the players their team drafts. Marcus Cannon was one of those names that fans might have recognized when the Patriots selected him No. 138 overall in 2011.
Maybe that’s why hopes have been so high for the behemoth lineman the past two years. The 6-foot-5, 358-pounder was supposed to be a second-round pick that year, but he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma after an irregularity was discovered at that year’s NFL combine. The illness made him slide all the way down to the fifth round, where the Patriots were presumably getting a steal.
Cannon has played 23 games for the Patriots in his two seasons in the league, starting one. He’s played mostly right tackle, with some snaps coming on the left side when New England uses Nate Solder as a tight end. Cannon has also taken occasional reps at right guard. If Cannon were to break into the starting lineup, right guard may be the spot to do it, barring injuries at any other position.
Cannon played right and left tackle at TCU, but many expected him to be converted to the interior upon being drafted. That hasn’t been the case so far. But with Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder locked up for years to come at tackle, Cannon would likely have to stay a reserve if he sticks it out at the position.
Cannon’s size and skill set would lend themselves well to a full-time conversion to guard. Starting right guard Dan Connolly was the lowest-rated player on the Patriots’ offensive line by Pro Football Focus’ grading last season. There is no weak link to the New England offensive line, but if there was a weaker link, it would be the right guard.
It will be important to watch where Cannon lines up during training camp. If it’s at guard, he could compete with Connolly for the starting job. If it’s at tackle, that likely means the team is happy with Cannon playing the same role he did in 2011 and 2012 as a backup tackle and third offensive lineman in heavy rushing situations.
Cannon struggled last season during the preseason when Vollmer was sitting out with injuries. Cannon was giving up pressure after pressure, and Tom Brady looked flustered behind him. That was while fans and media alike were panicking over the offensive line, which turned out just fine once the season started.
Cannon played well at tackle during the regular season, though, and was exceptionally good in his one start Week 12 against the Jets. He allowed just two pressures all game, with zero sacks and zero quarterback hits. It appeared Cannon was ready for a starting job if the Patriots wanted to give him one.
Cannon’s size and playing style are similar to 2012 Bills second-round pick Cordy Glenn and 2013 Chargers first-round pick D.J. Fluker. Glenn started at left tackle during the 2012 season, and Fluker is listed as a tackle on San Diego’s roster. Both players were expected to be future guards or right tackles in the NFL.
The tackle position is more valuable than guard, and as the NFL draft showed this year, the right tackle position is becoming nearly as important as the left tackle (Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel and Lane Johnson were all taken in the first four picks of the 2013 draft and are all expected to play on the right side this year). So, it makes sense why the Patriots would want to try Cannon out at tackle for as long as possible before forcing a switch to guard. But a starting player is more valuable than a reserve, so if Cannon can compete with Connolly for a starting spot at guard, it’s worth using him at the “less valuable” position.
Regardless of where Cannon plays, the Patriots are expected to have one of the best offensive lines in the league again this year. Vollmer and Logan Mankins are All Pros, Ryan Wendell is one of the most underrated players in the league, and Solder could make the jump to an All-Pro-level performance in his third season in the league (he is well on his way after his first two years). So Cannon will either be valuable depth or an improvement at a position of strength for the Patriots. Watch him during training camp to find which role he’ll play.
Each day this week we are going to feature a different player to watch during training camp. Check out the schedule below.
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