Six players who should be part of New England's offense in 2021 and beyond

Tom E. Curran
·5 min read

Curran: Identifying building blocks for the Patriots offense originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

They say football games are won and lost in the trenches. And when you think about it, the 2020 Patriots season was evidence of that.

We’re all clear on the team’s shortcomings at quarterback, tight end and wide receiver. They may have had the worst depth chart in the league at each of those spots. So how’d they win seven games?

They could run. Why could they run? Because of smart, athletic, well-coached offensive linemen who helped level an uneven offensive playing field for the Patriots.

That’s why this list of the Patriots' six most important offensive building blocks is chockful of linemen.

Michael Onwenu, OL

Age: 23

Contract: Expires after 2023

Why he’s part of the future: Absolute home run draft selection in the sixth round by the Patriots. Onwenu stepped in for Marcus Cannon at right tackle and played most of his 2020 snaps there but he was a guard at Michigan.

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By the end of the year, he’d played 92 percent of the Patriots offensive snaps up and down the offensive line and had one holding penalty. Given the modest salaries he’ll make the next three years ($780K, $895K and $1.01M) expect the Patriots to dangle an extension at some point.

His ability and versatility gives the Patriots a lot of latitude in their approach to all the positions on the line.

Isaiah Wynn, LT

Age: 25

Contract: Expires after 2021

Why he’s part of the future: As injury-plagued as Wynn has been, the 23rd overall pick in the 2018 draft is a good player when he’s on the field.

But that’s the issue.

Wynn’s played 18 of 48 possible games and 1,142 snaps in three seasons. Onwenu’s already played in 926 in one year. Is Wynn brittle or unlucky? The Patriots have to make that determination this year.

Even if they don’t pick up Wynn’s fifth-year option, they’ve sunk time and money into him and he’s a solid person. Unless he’s always going to be a physical dice roll, it would be smart to try to keep on keeping on after 2021 because left tackle is a tough spot to fill and Wynn can get the job done.

If, ya know, he's healthy ...

Damien Harris, RB

Age: 24

Contract: Expires after 2022

Why he’s part of the future: Harris was selected in the third round in 2019 in part because the Patriots knew Sony Michel probably isn’t built to last. After a redshirt year as a rookie, Harris showed that he’s just as good if not better than Michel, the 31st overall pick in 2018.

His furious running style combined with the punishment every back takes means the Patriots will have to be wary of his expiration date. Sad but true when we’re talking about a guy who doesn’t turn 24 until February 11.

But when it comes to ability as a runner, receiver and leader, he’s a very impressive and sturdy building block.

Jakobi Meyers, WR

Age: 24

Contract: Expires after 2021

Why he’s part of the future: Undrafted in 2019, Meyers was the Patriots best receiver in 2020, catching 59 balls for 729 yards. He also threw two touchdowns and looked better doing so than Cam Newton did on any of his.

He did all that for the low, low rate of $675,000. Meyers may never be better than a No. 3 in a standard NFL offense. He’s just not fast enough nor strong enough to be a player that’s going to command extra attention. But he’s a technician, catches the ball, creates short-area separation and is becoming more and more instinctive.

Dealing with the adversity of trying to please a cranky Tom Brady in 2019, flourishing despite the limitations of Cam Newton as a thrower, doing it with a very upbeat attitude? Even if he’s never going to a Pro Bowl, you want as many Jakobi Meyers-style players as you can get.

Shaq Mason, RG

Age: 27

Contract: Expires after 2023

Why he’s part of the future: Mason continues to be one of the best right guards in the league and one of the best draft picks by the Patriots in the past decade.

He’s just 27 and despite the fact he has an annual ding that limits him (he’s missed six total games the past three years), he’s still light-footed enough to go wherever the Patriots need him to after the snap.

If Onwenu stays at right tackle, that’s a potent pair on that side of the Patriots offensive line.

David Andrews, C

Age: 29

Contract: Expired

Andrews is set to be a free agent in March when the 2021 league year begins. It will be interesting to see how much interest he draws from the rest of the league if the Patriots let him hit the market.

My opinion is that it would be a mistake if they did. He came into the league undrafted in 2015 and has started 69 games for the team. He’s a captain. He came back from a serious health issue that caused him to miss all of 2019. He’s coming off a three-year, $9M contract extension so he certainly hasn’t cleaned up like a top-tier starting center.

Don’t make him go to the market, find a tepid response and make him come back hat in hand. Get him re-signed and keep the middle of the offensive line anchored.