Not every New England Patriots draft pick met expectations this season, but the team struck gold in the sixth round.
Offensive lineman Mike Onwenu, the 182nd overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, was the lone Patriots player to earn a spot on the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team, which was announced Tuesday.
Onwenu — nicknamed “Big Mike” by teammates and coaches — made the All-Rookie roster as a guard, but his primary position was right tackle, where he played 622 of his 927 offensive snaps this season, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Michigan product played every snap over New England’s final 14 games, making starts at right tackle, right guard and left guard. He also started the Patriots’ first two games as a jumbo tight end.
At 6-foot-3, 350 pounds, Onwenu is a mauler in the run game, and he fared well in pass protection, as well, allowing three sacks, one quarterback hit and 10 hurries in 486 pass-blocking snaps, per PFF. The 23-year-old finished the season as PFF’s eighth-highest-graded offensive tackle.
The Patriots are facing some important O-line questions with left guard Joe Thuney and center David Andrews set to hit free agency this offseason and right tackle Marcus Cannon’s status unclear following his COVID-19 opt-out, but Onwenu will be a locked-in starter in 2021. The only uncertainty with him is which position he’ll play — tackle or guard.
Head coach Bill Belichick said the Patriots will “take a long, hard look” at how to best utilize Onwenu’s talents moving forward.
“I think he’s shown, maybe a little bit surprisingly to us and him, his ability to play tackle,” Belichick said in late December. “That’s something he really hasn’t done, so that’s a great credit to him, and it certainly increases his value to our team. …
“He’s opened a lot of doors and opportunities for himself, and we’ll see how that fits into our team concept.”