New England Patriots: 2014 NFL Draft Preview – O-Line

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Previous Installments:

Cornerback

Wide Receiver

 

As a reminder, the New England Patriots have their first round (29), second round, third round, fourth round, their sixth round, Philly’s sixth round, and their seventh round picks.

 

State of the Position:

Now that I’ve stopped weeping uncontrollably over Dante Scarnecchia’s retirement, I’d like to start by saying that David DeGuglielmo will be a fine replacement: an ex-player who coached some of the better offensive lines in the last 10 years (’08 Giants, ’11 Dolphins, ’12 Jets) and who was hand-picked by Belichick.

downloadThe offensive line itself had an up-and-down year. Nate Solder and Logan Mankins were often great (excluding a shaky AFC Title game), the former looking like a line cornerstone, and the latter maintaining his particularly nasty form of leadership. Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell struggled at times, especially in pass protection (Brady was sacked 40 times, the most for him since 2001). Sebastian Vollmer went down with a gruesome leg injury, but the Patriots o-line depth showed their stuff, with impressive performances by Marcus Cannon and Josh Kline.

The two futures in serious question are Wendell and Connolly. Neither are the greatest talents, but Scarnecchia’s training and scheme have turned them into solid players. But the team may decide to look for more upside along the line.

 

What the Patriots Are Looking For:

Versatility is the name of the game. New England has shown themselves to be open to drafting an offensive lineman and then moving them to a specific position of need (Marcus Cannon, Logan Mankins). And in a league where linemen seem to go down constantly, a plug-and-play offensive lineman is a crucial piece to have. With the team’s recent transition towards the running game, it would be interesting to see if they value a run-blocking masher over a prospect who flourishes in pass protection. Either way, look for the Patriots to specifically look for a center/guard who can play at the middle three positions, especially with Solder/Vollmer/Cannon holding down the tackle depth.

 

THE TALENT:

In-Case-He-Slips: David Yankey, Stanford

images (1)David Yankey would be the perfect Patriots offensive lineman in this class, but there’s almost no way that the Stanford product would be available by the second round (where the Patriots would rather draft him) and may not even make it to 29. At 6-5, 314, Yankey has prototypical size for a lineman, but has terrific agility for such a large player. Yankey is a tremendous run-blocker, a sure puller who explodes into defensive players, and also is solid in pass protection. Most importantly: Yankey has experience all along the line. A natural guard, Yankey started at left tackle, center, and even contributed at tight end occasionally. The unanimous All-American will almost certainly be gone by the first round, but should, for some unknown reason, he slips even to the top of the second round, the Patriots will trade up for him in a heartbeat.

 

2nd-3rd Round: Weston Richburg, Colorado State

images (2)Weston Richburg has many of the same strengths as Yankey, but could be available at a much more attractive point in the draft. Like the Stanford product, Richburg has experience at all positions on the line, though his base position is center, and is a solidly built at 6’4, 300. But he is both much stronger and much more mobile than that frame suggests. Richburg plays with a definite mean streak, with a great first step that helps him in both his pulling and knocking against a nose tackle. He’s very good in pass protection as well and graded extremely well in his time at Colorado State (in his senior year at C. State he led an offensive line only allowed 20 sacks and averaged 200 rushing yards a game). Richburg does have some blocking discipline issues to iron out, but New England is the perfect place to iron them out, and the team would have no qualms drafting the smaller school player.  Also one of the all-time great names, like a prospector or a 20th century newsman. Anyway…

 

3rd-4th Round: Anthony Steen, Alabama

After a 2012 season in which he was overshadowed by the likes of DJ Fluker, Barrett Jones, and Chance Warmack on the Crimson Tide line, Steen flourished this past season without them. The All-SEC guard did undergo shoulder surgery for a partially torn labrum, forcing him out of the Sugar Bowl, which could hit his stock, but Steen is another typically strong Alabama lineman. While the 6’2, 310 Steen isn’t elite by any means at one particular asset of his game, he is a solid, all-around player. As New England is a team that doesn’t necessarily need extreme upside players on their line, Steen could be a good fit, and the Nick Saban connection will help in their scouting of him. He’s not the most exciting pick, but he is definitely solid.

 

4th-5th Round: Chris Watt, Notre Dame

download (1)Like his relationships with Nick Saban and Urban Myer, Bill Belichick’s relationship with Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly could be quite useful come draft time (see the next two articles for Niklas, Troy and Nix, Louis). That very connection could benefit OG Chris Watt around Day Three. Watt had a very solid 2013 season, and was a 13 game starter since his sophomore year. Watt has good size (6’3, 321) and good footwork and strength. For now, Watt is a better run-blocker than pass-protector, though he is above average in both. He is obviously raw in a few areas, doesn’t have the same positional versatility as others, and could do well with a veteran group around him. But he is a hard worker and has great intangibles (he earned his marketing degree before the 2013 season, playing as a graduate student) that will make him more attractive to teams. His status as a 4th-5th round player speaks more to the great depth of this draft class, and he would be a fine pickup for New England.

 

6th-7th Round: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma

Gabe Ikard is a smart athletic football player with a good size build to boot (6’3, 302). With 37 starts in his college career, he played against the best of the best, and plays with intelligence. He has great footwork and is quick to take out second-level defenders on running plays. He has struggled at times in pass-protection, but he did impress in his later games against Notre Dame and Alabama. He doesn’t have a ton of upside (and may be a bit too light to play anything other than center) but would be a solid pickup this late in the game, and could at least be an above-average backup in the NFL.

 

 

Be sure to check my Twitter (@isportspeters) for more of this draft preview, as well as more Red Sox/Patriots/Celtics articles. As always, if there are any players who you think should be included here, drop me a line on Twitter or at isportspeters@gmail.com.

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