The last time the New England Patriots used a mid-round draft pick on an interior offensive lineman, he became a Day 1 starter.
Hjalte Froholdt (fourth round, 2019) likely will need to wait a bit longer than Joe Thuney (third rounder, 2016) did, but if Thuney opts to leave in free agency next offseason, it’s not hard to envision Froholdt replacing him as Patriots’ starting left guard in 2020.
Not only does Froholdt have a fascinating story — he hails from Denmark, played high school football in Ohio and Florida and began his collegiate career as a defensive tackle at Arkansas before switching to O-line as a sophomore and starting all 37 games there over his final three seasons — he’s also highly skilled, particularly in pass protection.
In 24 games over his junior and senior seasons, Froholdt did not allow a single sack, according to Pro Football Focus, which ranked him as the fourth-best guard in this year’s draft class. He surrendered 16 total pressures during that span, including just five in 2018 (three quarterback hits, two hurries).
Froholdt’s quick feet and low center of gravity are his greatest assets in this area. At 6-foot-5, 306 pounds, he moves well laterally to cut off twisting and stunting rushers, rarely gets driven backward and is adept at using defenders’ momentum against them.
Our review of Froholdt’s college film found several examples of this in the Razorbacks’ blowout loss to Alabama last season, during which Froholdt fared well against No. 3 overall draft pick Quinnen Williams.
Below is another example from Arkansas’ early-season matchup with Texas A&M. Defensive tackle Daylon Mack (a fifth-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens) penetrates upfield, but Froholdt is able to divert him away from quarterback Ty Storey, who finds an open receiver for a big gain.
Later in that same game, Froholdt, after finding himself without a man to block, looked to his left, saw A&M’s edge rusher had beaten Arkansas’ left tackle and slid over to assist, preventing a sack.
Froholdt put on another strong pass-blocking performance against Auburn, including a nice downfield chip on a screen pass (clip No. 4).
Of course, pass-blocking is only half of an O-lineman’s job description, and the other half of Froholdt’s game could use some work.
Though he pumped out an impressive 31 bench press reps at the NFL Scouting Combine (fifth-most for his position), the 22-year-old isn’t an overpowering run blocker. Pushing D-tackles backward wasn’t his style in college; instead, he won by using small, subtle movements to wall off defenders and open running lanes.
Froholdt did this to great effect against Colorado State — one of the three games he started at center last season. (His other 34 starts were at left guard.) Arkansas’ stable of ball-carriers rushed for 299 yards in that game, and many of them came on runs directly up the middle.
Froholdt used this same approach when pulling — which he did from both the guard and center positions — acting more as a roadblock than a bulldozer. These tactics were effective at times but might not cut it against the bigger, stronger, faster defenders he’ll see at the NFL level.
Froholdt is something of a project as he begins his Patriots career, but there’s reason to believe he could develop into a starter in the not-too-distant future.
For one, he’s still relatively new to the offensive line, having not played there until 2016. And with the Patriots’ rock-solid interior trio of Thuney, center David Andrews and right guard Shaq Mason set to remain intact for at least one more season, Froholdt will have plenty of time to grow and improve while learning under Dante Scarnecchia, the NFL’s premier O-line coach.
Thumbnail photo via Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY Sports Images