The first round pick for the Patriots should be one to get some depth at the tight end position as I wrote in my previous article. Coming off a few seemingly successful drafts at corner, wide receiver, defensive end and linebacker, I think the most logical place for the Patriots to land is on the offensive line for round two.
Ryan Wendell was the Pats starting center the last two seasons and is a free agent currently. According to Patriots writer Paul Perilllo, Wendell may not return. Will Svitek filled in nicely last season, but is also set to be a free agent and will likely not return. Dan Connoly’s cap number is set to hit $4 million this season and he could be asked to restructure and take the role of center, which could lead to a similar situation to Vince Wilfork.
Sebastian Vollmer missed half of the season with a broken leg and assuming he comes back in full health may not be the best approach. The Patriots have some practice squad guys from a year ago, but this smells like the perfect draft to gain a little depth on the offensive line, specifically, tackle.
So far, the Pats have brought in a limited number of offensive linemen, but that means very little in the grand scheme of the draft. They have visited with Trey Hopkins (Texas), Matt Patchan (Boston College) and Xavier Su’a-Filo (UCLA).
Trey Hopkins isn’t projected high and some drafts have him going undrafted. He wasn’t invited to the combine, but showed impressive skills at the Texas Pro Day. Hopkins’ 28 reps on the bench press was good for 14th best. He’s good for a late round, low risk pick, but that’s all.
Matt Patchan is projected to go later in rounds 4-6 as he posted a 4.94 40-yard dash and did 22 reps of 225. Patchan looks the part of a tackle, which is the position I think the Pats could use with just Solder and Vollmer there even though most seem to feel the guard position is more dire for the Pats. Grabbing a guard is good for depth, but they have bigger offensive linemen and could use a quicker guy that can develop into someone that can keep up with fast pass-rushers.
Patchan’s biggest issue is coming off the line too high leaving him susceptible to bull-rushes. Also, he has consistently been unhealthy in his time in college. Seriously, Google it – he’s been really unhealthy/unlucky. He’s definitely worth a shot much later in the draft in round 6.
Xavier Su’a-Filo is projected to go the highest of the three visits. He has had limited time to gain strength as he went on a LDS mission to Alabama and Florida. He started all 13 games his freshman year, missed two seasons on the mission and then started all 13 in 2013. That lack of core strength leaves him attainable in the second round for the Patriots, who would likely have to coach him up, but he’s seemingly the most NFL-ready guard in this draft class.
Su’a-Filo won the Morris Trophy, which is given to the most outstanding offensive lineman in the Pac-12. He was also a team captain and was voted Bruins offensive team MVP. His leadership and his athleticism makes him desirable to most teams. He’s most natural at the left guard position.
Zach Martin out of Notre Dame is versatile and can offer help at the guard and tackle positions. Patriots coach Bill Belichick loves that quality in a player and it catapults him to the top of my list. He can be susceptible to quicker pass rushers, but his strength and good footwork make him ideal inside and if injuries happen like last season, he can shift outside. He’s a work in progress at tackle, but good enough to start day one at guard and that may happen if Wendell leaves and Connoly takes his spot at center.
There were nine total offensive linemen taken in the first round of the 2013 draft, which should mean less teams will be looking to fill those positions this time around. Quarterbacks, per usual, have taken the spotlight in the first round and grabbing a top offensive line prospect seems possible for the Patriots.