If the New England Patriots don’t draft an offensive tackle in 2020, it might tip their hand to what they think about one of last year’s draft picks.
The Patriots selected offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft out of West Virginia. He missed his entire rookie year and didn’t practice with the team a single time as he recovered from quad surgery he underwent a month before the draft. It was expected to keep him out three months but wound up costing him the season.
The Patriots could have used him in 2019, too. Marshall Newhouse received extensive snaps as left tackle Isaiah Wynn missed half of the season with a toe injury. Right tackle Marcus Cannon also missed time.
If Wynn and Cannon are inserted back into their starting roles, as they’re expected to be, then Cajuste, if healthy, could serve Newhouse’s former role as the Patriots’ swing tackle. Cajuste played left tackle with the Mountaineers but seems to have the versatility to play on the right side, as well.
Cannon will be 32 years old this season, and his contract runs out in 2022. If all goes as planned, then Cajuste could wind up being the Patriots’ future starting right tackle. It’s also possible Cajuste could replace Joe Thuney as the Patriots’ starting left guard in 2020 if New England believes he could kick inside. Thuney is a free agent, and the Patriots don’t have an obvious replacement starter on their current roster.
Cajuste was spectacular as a college player, though he did miss time with knee injuries. He didn’t allow a sack and let up just 12 total pressures as a senior in 2018. In his four-year college career, Cajuste allowed just three sacks, four QB hits and 32 hurries. He likely would have gone higher in the draft without the quad surgery and history of knee ailments.
Whether Cajuste can stay healthy ultimately will determine if he’s the next Cannon or Antonio Garcia. Cannon fell in the 2011 NFL Draft because of health issues — in his case far more serious ones. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma before the draft but wound up playing as a rookie. He’s gone on to start 69 games, get named to an All-Pro list and win three Super Bowls.
Garcia was selected in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft, missed his rookie season with blood clots in his lungs and was waived before he ever played a game with the Patriots.
Other than Wynn, Cannon and Cajuste, the Patriots have just one other offensive tackle on their roster in Korey Cunningham. If Cajuste stays healthy this offseason, then he shouldn’t have trouble making the team’s 53-man roster. He’s certainly an interesting player to watch this spring and summer given his draft pedigree and upside.
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