FOXBORO, Mass. — Most casual New England Patriots fans probably don’t even know who Andrew Jelks is, but he’s been with the team since May despite not participating in a single practice.
Jelks is an undrafted rookie offensive tackle who has not appeared in a game of any kind since 2014 — his sophomore year at Vanderbilt. He sat out his junior and senior seasons with torn ACLs, but Patriots coach Bill Belichick liked the 23-year-old’s upside enough to keep him on the 90-man roster all summer rather than using the spot on a player who potentially could contribute this season.
“Well, Jelks was a two-year starter in the SEC in his (redshirt) freshman and sophomore years, and then he had the injuries and missed his junior and senior year,” Belichick said Friday morning. “I think he’s a player that had good talent, obviously, to play in that league at that position that early. You could see that, so it’s a question of where he can get back to after the injuries.”
Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason earlier this year said Jelks was easily the Commodores’ best player in 2014.
“I think Jelks is a tremendous football player,” Mason told reporters at Vanderbilt’s pro day in March, via the Tennessean. “He was the best player coming into this program when I got here (in 2014). No doubt he was the best player.”
Jelks, who currently is on the reserve/non-football injury list, attends Patriots practices but does not wear pads or participate in drills with the rest of the team. Instead, he and fellow NFI lister Keionta Davis, a rookie defensive end out of Chattanooga, work on conditioning on a separate field, with other injured players occasionally joining them.
“He worked extremely hard,” Belichick said. “He’s a smart kid, and he’s played both tackle positions for Vanderbilt — played both left and right — so we’ll just see how it goes. We felt like he was a player worth working with, and he hasn’t disappointed us with his work ethic and his diligence and his improvement, but we haven’t had a chance to really see him on the field other than some non-contact things in the spring.
“At some point, maybe we’ll see how it goes, but he works hard. (He’s) a young player with some skill who is two years removed from real football. It’s obviously why he wasn’t drafted, and there’s a lot of questions there. But he’s still here.”
It’s unlikely we’ll see Jelks on the field this season. But if his knee heals and he proves he can replicate his early-college effectiveness, he could factor into the Patriots’ offensive line plans in the future.
Nate Solder, New England’s starting left tackle since 2012, is in the final year of his contract, and backups Cameron Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle are set to hit free agency in 2018, as well.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images