2023 Prototypical Patriots: Offensive linemen who could fit team's mold in NFL Draft
Perry: Highlighting the best offensive line fits for Pats in draft originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Patriots could be setting themselves up to draft an offensive tackle in the first round.
They're bringing in a veteran with plenty of starting experience in Riley Reiff. They've added backups with starting experience like Conor McDermott and Calvin Anderson. They've kept Yodny Cajuste on a restricted free agent tender. They have last year's starting left tackle, Trent Brown, under contract.
They still might need another starter, though, to protect Mac Jones. Maybe that player comes with the No. 14 overall selection. If that's their plan, what's their type?
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Going through their choices at that position over the last decade, it's clear they want athletes. Vertical jumps sniffing 30 inches. Broad jumps up over 100 inches. Short-shuttle times under 5.0 seconds. Clock a 40 time in the 5.15-second range (helped by a good 10-yard split) and a three-cone around 7.5 seconds? You're looking like a Patriot.
Size appeared to matter once upon a time, and then Bill Belichick drafted Isaiah Wynn in the first round. But even Wynn (6-foot-3, 313 pounds) had long enough arms (33.5 inches) to make him something other than a complete outlier.
There are a handful of highly-drafted tackles we can point to as prototypes in New England: Nate Solder was an elite athlete at his size, as was Sebastian Vollmer. Both of those players are worth considering as comps for what the Patriots might like at the position this offseason since they were the starting offensive tackles the last time Bill O'Brien was running the offense in New England.
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Anyone in this year's draft class fit the suit? Let's take a look at both tackles and interior linemen, with an emphasis on the former since that's the greater need at the moment.
Darnell Wright, Tennessee (6-foot-5, 333 pounds)
2023 NFL Draft Highlights: OL Darnell Wright - Tennessee
There's not a single tackle in this class whose Relative Athletic Score -- compiled by Kent Lee Platte after receiving official measurements and athletic testing results -- reaches 9.90 (out of 10) the way both Solder's and Vollmer's did. But Wright may be the most impressive athlete of this year's tackle class.
At his weight, to record a 5.01-second 40-yard dash time and a 9-foot-7 broad jump is ... ridiculous. Then there's what he did on tape. He erased Alabama's Will Anderson -- a likely top-five pick in this year's draft -- in their meeting, and he thrived at the Senior Bowl. Put it all together, and you have the player who feels like the best on-paper fit for the Patriots at this position.
Broderick Jones, Georgia (6-foot-5, 311 pounds)
Not far behind Wright in terms of fitting the Patriots is one of his SEC rivals. Jones is a special mover as well. He doesn't have the mass that Wright possesses, but to run a 4.97-second 40 -- and to damn near throw an NFL assistant in the on-field workout -- during this year's combine was attention-grabbing.
Jones' explosiveness figures (30-inch vertical, 9-foot broad) are more than enough from a Patriots standpoint, and he's much longer than the Patriots' last highly-drafted Bulldog offensive lineman (Wynn). Jones possesses nearly 35-inch arms.
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He may not be deemed a starter right out of the chutes. (Remember, neither was Solder.) But Jones has enough in the way of upside given that he has less than two full seasons of starting-left-tackle experience coming from the college ranks.
Peter Skoronski, Northwestern (6-foot-4, 313 pounds)
2023 NFL Draft Highlights: OL Peter Skoronski - Northwestern
Let's call this our Wynn Corollary addition. Ever since the idea of a Patriots "prototype" at tackle was turned on its head in 2018, we've made room for undersized athletes to make their way onto this list. And if anyone's ever been deserving to be deemed an exception here, it's Skoronski.
He may be the most game-ready tackle in the class. He's just lacking in the length department. His 32.25-inch arms are outliers, ranking in the fourth percentile among tackles over more than two decades of combine measurements. Otherwise? He's bringing a lot to the table.
He's an explosive athlete (34.5-inch vertical, 9-foot-7 broad) who knows his way around the weight room (30 bench reps of 225 pounds). Strong college production. Excellent movement skills. Just a little undersized. Hasn't stopped the Patriots in the past.
Paris Johnson, Ohio State (6-foot-6, 313 pounds)
No size concerns here. Johnson is going to be just about every team's physical prototype at the position. He has go-go-gadget 36-inch arms, and he showed off some explosiveness at the combine with a 110-inch broad jump.
He should have some versatility to play multiple spots along the line because he's an above-average athlete, (he played both guard and tackle for the Buckeyes), but he looks like an eventual blind-side protector. He could afford to add a little more strength to his game, but that should come with time.
Dawand Jones, Ohio State (6-foot-8, 359 pounds)
There are prototypes ... and then there are giants. Jones set a new record at the Senior Bowl with his 7-foot-6 wingspan. And then he went to work in Mobile, Ala., dominating during the early part of the week.
He's not exactly a "dancing bear" out there. As you could imagine, someone with his frame isn't going to out-athlete high-end NFL rushers. But his power is so overwhelming, and he's so long, he's going to be a quick contributor at right tackle.
Cody Mauch, North Dakota State (6-foot-5, 302 pounds)
Best smile in the draft class. Maybe the best hair in the draft. One of the best athletes at his position in the draft class. Mauch recorded an excellent short-shuttle time of 4.55 seconds as well as a 108-inch broad jump and a 29-inch vertical to go along with a 5.08-second 40. He's light, but he began his college career as a tight end and has added about 80 pounds since then.
Perhaps he'll be able to add more mass as he enters the pro ranks. But even as a lighter option at this position, he still looks like an impactful run-blocker in need of some pass-protection refinement. He may end up playing along the interior -- as he did during the Senior Bowl -- but we'll keep him in the tackle conversation for now.
Anton Harrison, Oklahoma (6-foot-5, 315 pounds)
If it's a pass-protector you're looking for, Harrison could be your guy. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed just one knockdown on 425 pass-blocking snaps in 2022.
He's a bit like Paris Johnson (though smaller) in that he could afford to pack on some muscle early in his career to help him in the running game and against stronger pass-rushers on third down. But, like Johnson, his athletic gifts will get him drafted relatively early. He clocked a 4.98-second 40 and recorded a 105-inch broad jump.
Matthew Bergeron, Syracuse (6-foot-5, 318 pounds)
A four-year starter for the Orange, having seen time at both tackle spots, Bergeron enters the NFL with a wealth of ACC experience. He's athletic enough for the Patriots with a 30.5-inch vertical and a 103-inch broad jump, and he puts those movement skills to good use in the run game.
Does he have enough as a pass-protector? Do the Patriots -- with new offensive line coach Adrian Klemm -- feel as though Bergeron can be taught the proper techniques in that all-important facet of his job?
Bergeron doesn't necessarily have the look of a franchise cornerstone, but with his experience on both sides of the line and his aggressiveness in the running game, he'll have value as a third tackle who could work his way into a starting role eventually.
Tyler Steen, Alabama (6-foot-6, 321 pounds)
Given his background with Nick Saban, Steen perhaps should be a little higher on this list. He has plenty of size, and he moves well enough (29.5-inch vertical, 109-inch broad, 4.59-second short shuttle).
Steen played both guard and tackle at the Senior Bowl and looked stout. He may be a Day 3 pick, but he also may have his best football still in front of him. Not bad for a guy whose college career began as a defensive lineman at Vanderbilt.
Blake Freeland, BYU (6-foot-8, 305 pounds)
2023 NFL Draft Highlights: Blake Freeland - OL, BYU
Experience at both tackle spots? Check. Like... a ridiculous amount of experience? Check (over 2,500 snaps). Team captain? Check. Plus athlete? Oh yes. Freeland posted a 4.98-second 40 (93rd percentile among tackles over the last two decades) and incredibly explosive jumps that included a 37-inch vertical (best ever by a lineman at the combine) and a 120-inch broad (98th percentile).
When people tell you the combine doesn't really matter... Just not the case. Teams already knew he was an athlete. But his performance in Indy may get someone to bite on his potential earlier than they might have before he tested like a certified alien.
Interior offensive linemen
What are the Patriots looking for when they go digging for centers and guards? Look at some of the best they've selected -- Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney, Logan Mankins -- and there are some trends.
As is the case at tackle, they want athletes. If you can run a quick three-cone drill in the 7.5-second range; if you've got a 40-yard dash time in the 5.15-second range and a shuttle time around 4.5-seconds; you've got a shot.
But, as is the case at every spot, there are exceptions.
Mike Onwenu wasn't thought to be a great athlete leaving Michigan, but he was a massive human being at 350 pounds, and he was athletic enough. "Smart, tough and athletic enough" was how Dante Scarnecchia long described the players he liked best up front, by the way.
Here are a few interior offensive linemen who fit that description:
Steve Avila, TCU (6-foot-4, 332 pounds)
2023 NFL Draft Highlights: G Steve Avila - TCU
Avila isn't the most athletic player in this bunch. But he was a force at the Senior Bowl, which we know the Patriots value highly. He has a powerfully-built frame that would allow him to win in pass protection the way Onwenu does -- by being an immovable force.
He's played both guard and center, and he looks athletic enough to thrive in New England's scheme. He'll very likely be selected before the Patriots are comfortable grabbing a guard, but he's their type.
O'Cyrus Torrence, Florida (6-foot-5, 347 pounds)
Here's another prospect who would fit the Onwenu mold. Only, like Avila, he'll be drafted much earlier than Onwenu was.
Torrence is a behemoth guad prospect with massive 11-inch mitts. He's not wowing anyone athletically, but he had enough in the way of movement skills to thrive in the SEC (zero sacks allowed in almost 700 snaps last season). The Patriots like power on the interior, and Torrence would bring them that in spades.
Joe Tippmann, Wisconsin (6-foot-6, 313 pounds)
Now we're getting to some of the best athletes in the class along the offensive line. Tippmann certainly qualifies, even if he didn't test at the combine. His speed and explosiveness are his calling cards. Getting to the second level. Pulling.
The two-year starter at center for the Badgers is a problem because humans his size should not be able to move the way he does. Combine those physical gifts with what is considered a high football IQ, and you get one of the top interior linemen available.
Jon Gaines, UCLA (6-foot-4, 303 pounds)
The last time the Patriots drafted an athlete like Gaines, who looks a little light? First round. Last year. Gaines, like Cole Strange, has some special athletic traits that put him in the same test-results conversation as some of the best interior linemen in the league.
Punch Gaines' name into Mockdraftable.com, and the comps you'll get for him include Joe Thuney and Ali Marpet (two comps for Strange). Why? He can move. His 4.45-second 20-yard shuttle (94th percentile) is extremely impressive, as is his 7.31-second three-cone drill (96th) and his 9-foot-6 broad jump (97th).
If he's available on Day 3, he shouldn't last long.
John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota (6-foot-4, 301 pounds)
Schmitz was a four-year starter for the Gophers, so it would make sense that he looks like a polished college product. He's not the best athlete in the world with a 5.35-second 40, but his short shuttle (4.56 seconds) was impressive. Plus, his college production was excellent. Per PFF, he allowed just two sacks in the last three seasons combined.
The question for the Patriots is this: What will be their primary running scheme? If it's zone, Schmidtz makes sense. If they're trying to hammer defenders at the line of scrimmage with double-teams, maybe not.
Nick Saldiveri, Old Dominion (6-foot-6, 318 pounds)
2023 NFL Draft Highlights: Nick Saldiveri - Old Dominion OL
Saldiveri is considered a smart player with good enough movement skills that it should come as little surprise if he goes from being a Day 3 selection to on someone's 53-man roster following training camp.
He started for three years at ODU, and looks like an NFL athlete with good jumps (31-inch vert, 111-inch broad) and a good enough shuttle (4.69 seconds). He was a tackle in college but looks destined to make a move inside at the next level.
John Ojukwu, Boise State (6-foot-6, 309 pounds)
For someone who's projected to be a Day 3 (and perhaps a late Day 3) choice, Ojukwu has some of the most impressive on-paper traits among guard prospects in this class. He has 34-inch arms and nearly 11-inch hands, which are rare.
But his short-area quickness times are equally eye-opening. He had a 7.52-second three-cone drill and a very impressive 4.52-second short shuttle. Those are the kinds of gifts worth taking once the Saturday of draft weekend hits.
Luke Wypler, Ohio State (6-foot-3, 303 pounds)
One sack allowed in two seasons? Wypler has one of the cleanest track records at the center spot in this year's draft class, which is probably why he's declared early for the draft. His short-shuttle time was tremendous at 4.53 seconds.
PFF's comp for him? David Andrews. Like Andrews, he may be viewed as a tad undersized at 6-foot-3 and 303 pounds.
Jordan McFadden, Clemson (6-foot-2, 303 pounds)
Talk about undersized. McFadden has one of the smaller frames you'll see entering the NFL to play in the trenches. But his athleticism is real. He clocked a 4.99-second 40 (92nd percentile among linemen at the combine over the last two decades), to go along with a 10-yard split of 1.74 seconds.
He also started for three years in the ACC, and he was a captain for the Tigers, playing both tackle spots during his time at Clemson. All things the Patriots would love.
Sidy Sow, Eastern Michigan (6-foot-5, 323 pounds)
Sow doesn't hail from a Power Five program, but he tested like an NFL-caliber athlete. He recorded excellent jumps in Indy this year, with a 32-inch vertical (91st percentile) and a 9-foot-2 broad (90th).
He also clocked a quick 40 time with a 5.07-second run (90th). His three-cone (7.62 seconds) and short shuttle (4.69 seconds) weren't elite, but they were above average.
Jake Andrews, Troy (6-foot-3, 305 pounds)
Andrews sneaks onto this list with a 5.15-second 40 time to go along with what's considered real shock in his hands. He has 37 starts to his name, and even though he's not a special athlete in confined spaces, he has enough power to warrant placement here.
Not many linemen have the kind of power Andrews exhibited at the Senior Bowl against defenders like Keeanu Benton from Wisconsin and Keion White from Georgia Tech, who will likely be higher picks.