It’s difficult to find a starting left tackle beyond the first round of the NFL draft, but the New England Patriots might have that diamond in the rough last weekend when they selected Yodny Cajuste out of West Virginia with the 101st overall pick.
Cajuste dropped to the third round largely because of injuries. He missed half of his freshman season with a knee injury then tore his ACL one game into his sophomore year. He stayed healthy in 2017 and 2018 but couldn’t compete in any pre-draft testing after undergoing quad surgery. Cajuste likely won’t take the Patriots’ practice field until training camp.
So, there’s some injury risk involved in taking Cajuste, but the potential reward outweighs it. Cajuste appears to have the athleticism, length and pass-blocking ability to man the blindside if needed.
He would have been a four-year starter at left tackle with the Mountaineers if not for injuries.
The Patriots typically ask their tackles to redirect pass rushers behind the quarterback, a technique already familiar to Cajuste.
There are more athletic tackles out there, but Cajuste certainly meets the size requirements for a left tackle. He’s 6-foot-5, 312 pounds with 34-inch arms. He certainly can shuffle his feet quickly enough to play in the Patriots’ system.
Cajuste did a nice job picking up a blitzing linebacker here. He completely stonewalled the undersized pass rusher.
He might not move like Lane Johnson while getting out in space on a screen, but Cajuste still did his job in taking this cornerback out of the play.
He has to watch out for penalties at the next level. Pro Football Focus marked him down for eight penalties in each of the last two seasons. He got too handsy here when West Virginia quarterback Will Grier tries to extend the play.
Cajuste allowed just 12 total pressures in 2018, according to PFF. He didn’t let up a sack all season and allowed just two QB hits. He let up one sack in 2017.
Here’s one of the few pressures Cajuste let up last season. He simply got overpowered.
If 2018 first-round pick Isaiah Wynn earns the job at left tackle, then Cajuste could serve as a swing option in 2019. If he proves himself in that role, then he could be the future starting right tackle when Marcus Cannon leaves.
Cajuste is a solid run blocker, but he’s currently better in the passing game.
He opened up a sizable hole for his running back on this play.
He’s not exactly a road grader against the run, but he can get some push.
He’s not always fully in control when asked to block in space. He whiffed a bit at the second level here:
He did a much better job getting out to the second level and squaring up on these plays:
Overall, Cajuste is a very impressive prospect. He’s not the most athletic offensive tackle, and he could afford to add some power in the run game, but he’s balanced and steady. And just the fact that he has the potential to play left tackle in the NFL makes him worth a third-round pick, regardless of injuries.
If all goes as planned for the Patriots, however, Cajuste won’t have to play left tackle. That role is supposed to be manned by Wynn, but he’s undersized and missed all of last season with a torn Achilles. He’ll receive every opportunity to start at left tackle in 2019, but there could be a competition for the role.
And if the Patriots do believe he can play left tackle, then they would have the ability to put their best five offensive linemen on the field in 2020 if Joe Thuney leaves in free agency.
The Patriots could go with any of these three combinations:
LG: Hjalte Froholdt
C: David Andrews
RG: Shaq Mason
RT: Marcus Cannon
We’re getting ahead of ourselves, but it’s not crazy to already believe Cajuste has starting potential.
Thumbnail photo via Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports Images