Offensive line is one of the biggest strengths on the New England Patriots’ roster, but it’s also one of their biggest needs in the 2021 NFL Draft.
That might sound like a paradox on the surface, but it makes sense when you dig deeper. Patriots left tackle Isaiah Wynn is entering the final year of his four-year rookie contract, and New England has until May 3 to decide whether to pick up his 2022 fifth-year option. Regardless, Wynn is could hit free agency in 2022 or 2023. Trent Brown, meanwhile, is on a one-year contract with New England, so there are question marks moving forward at both tackle spots.
Michael Onwenu, a 2020 sixth-round pick, excelled at guard and right tackle as a rookie and projects to start at left guard in 2021. He could move to tackle if necessary in the future. Right guard Shaq Mason is signed through 2023, and center David Andrews is signed through 2024. Top center and guard backup Ted Karras is on a one-year contract. Offensive tackle Justin Herron, also a 2020 sixth-round pick, played well as a rookie and like Onwenu is signed for three more seasons. He has the upside to be a starter in the future.
Beyond quarterback, there aren’t any obvious immediate needs after New England splurged in free agency. The Patriots could certainly use some certainty at offensive tackle in 2022 and beyond, and they could take a player at the position as early as the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. We’ll try to narrow down the choices using draft fits.
Here’s the Patriots’ draft history at offensive tackle including combine and pro day measurements:
The Patriots typically draft in line with the NFL average offensive tackle, but they do seem to value explosion (vertical leap and broad jump) and strength over other testing drills. They don’t care about length, especially in recent years. Wynn is one of the shortest tackles in the NFL. Onwenu, who was drafted as a guard, is just 6-foot-3 with 34 3/8-inch arms. Jermaine Eluemunor also played right tackle last season for New England. He’s 6-foot-4 with 33 1/4-inch arms.
Here are this year’s offensive tackle draft prospects. We devised a “Fit” metric by standardizing then weighting pro day measurements with the Patriots’ drafted averages.
Here are the top 20 Patriots fits based on that metric:
Now let’s pick a prospect for the Patriots in each round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
First Round: Alijah Vera-Tucker, USC
If we were going solely based on the “Fit” metric, then we would have Rashawn Slater or Alex Leatherwood in this spot. But we asked around to sources around the NFL to identify any potential first-round picks for New England, and Vera-Tucker’s name was mentioned.
He tested well, but most teams would only view him as a guard based on his lack of length at 6-foot-4 1/2 with 32 1/8-inch arms. It’s entirely possible that could scare off the Patriots, as well, but he was excellent at left tackle for the Trojans last season after spending his freshman season at right guard and his junior year at left guard. And if Vera-Tucker didn’t work out at tackle, they could slide Onwenu outside and put the USC product at guard.
Second Round: Sam Cosmi, Texas
Cosmi also lacks the ideal length for an NFL offensive tackle. But once again, the Patriots don’t really seem to care about that.
Cosmi played left and right tackle at Texas. He let up just eight total pressures as a senior. His 4.87-second 40-yard dash led offensive tackle prospects this spring.
Third Round: Spencer Brown, Northern Iowa
Brown is an absolute freak. At 6-foot-8, 311 pounds, he ran a 6.96-second three-cone drill. To put that into perspective, only seven wide receivers who weight 211 pounds or more ran a sub-7-second three-cone drill.
Fourth Round: Tommy Doyle, Miami (OH)
Doyle tested nearly identically to 2011 Patriots first-round pick Nate Solder.
Doyle played left and right tackle in college and let up just 17 total pressures in his last three seasons.
Fifth Round: Dan Moore, Texas A&M
Moore is a prospect on the rise who made Second Team All-SEC as a senior at left tackle.
Sixth Round: Landon Young, Kentucky
Young lacks ideal length for most teams, but he was First Team All-SEC as a senior as the Wildcats’ left tackle. He let up one sack and 13 total pressures as a senior.
Seventh Round: Chandon Herring, BYU
Herring started games at right tackle, right guard and left guard at BYU. He’ll be 25 in October and let up just 14 pressures in 2020.