Safe is one way to describe it.
The phrase former New England Patriots executive Scott Pioli used was “clean.” Think unblemished on and off the field.
Pioli talked about the types of offensive and defensive linemen the team considered drafting during his tenure in a recent interview on the NFL Network. From Pioli, via SB Nation’s Pats Pulpit: “Generally speaking, when the Patriots go with a big guy one of the things we did when I was out there was we made sure they were not only big and talented, but they had to be clean.”
The Patriots are in need of several “clean” prospects along both sides of the line.
Starting guards Shaq Mason was traded to Tampa Bay and Ted Karras signed with Cincinnati. The defensive line, meanwhile, is hoping to improve upon last season’s No. 22 ranking against the run.
New England has eight picks in the upcoming draft, including three of the top 85 picks. If the Patriots are going to add potential starters to either side of the line, those are the rounds to do it.
Here’s a look at “clean” offensive and defensive line prospects in the first three rounds:
Connecticut defensive lineman Travis Jones doesn’t come with the same hype as the Georgia linemen, but that has nothing to do with his play on the field. The 6-foot-5, 333-pound senior has steadily climbed up draft boards and can be found near the bottom of the first round in many mock drafts.
On offense, center Tyler Linderbaum or guards Zion Johnson and Kenyon Green all fit the bill. Center isn’t a need for New England, as former Georgia undrafted rookie David Andrews had a 77.6 PFF grade last season. And you can probably pencil in Michael Onwenu as one of the starting guards. As for the other starting guard, James Ferentz, Justin Herron and Yodny Cajuste are all in the mix.
In other words, Johnson and/or Green would be an immediate upgrade.
Both come with position versatility. Johnson played left guard in 2019, left tackle in 2020, then rotated between the positions last season. Not to be outdone, Green played every position along the line but center in 2021.
There are no questions about the 6-foot-6, 360-pound Davis’ talent, but analysts wonder if he can play more than 400 snaps in a season. Former Alabama defensive tackle Christian Barmore, for example, played in 598 snaps on defense last season. Barmore was a second-round pick.
As for Wyatt, some teams have allegedly taken him off their draft boards due to off-field concerns. You can read about it here. Wyatt is also one of the older prospects in the draft at 24.
Johnson seems just seems like a Bill Belichick-type of player. A no-star recruit with only one season as a full-time starter in high school, Johnson signed with Davidson at 240 pounds and eventually wound up starting his freshman season. He eventually transferred to Boston College, where he was a three-year starter after taking advantage of the extra year.
Johnson graduated last May with a degree in computer science and is currently working toward his master’s degree in cybersecurity policy and governance.
“He’s one of the few guys in this draft class that I gave a 90 grade to which is a future All Pro type …”
Count @FBallGamePlan among the many fans of BC OL Zion Johnson
— Ross Tucker Podcast (@RossTuckerPod) April 13, 2022
Phidarian Mathis of Alabama has a lot in common with Barmore. At 6-foot-4, 312-pounds, he’s similar in size to his former Crimson Tide teammate (Barmore is 6-foot-5, 310-pounds), and both have violent hands, big bodies and provide a little pass rush. Barmore was a slightly better prospect, while Mathis might be the better run defender. Taking him at this point in the second round might be a tad high for Mathis – he’s also 24-years-old – but he likely won’t fall to pick No. 85.
On offense, former Ohio State offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere is probably the safest pick of the remaining offensive linemen, as the 6-foot-5, 315-pound junior had a solid year for the Buckeyes (except for the Michigan game, but every OSU lineman struggled in that game). And the Patriots might be interested in drafting a tackle, as Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown have consistently missed time over the years due to injuries.
However, it’s hard to imagine the team drafting a player in the second round that it hopes doesn’t play his rookie season.
Chattanooga guard Cole Strange is another “safe” pick, except for one obvious issue: the level of competition he faced in college.
Leal was once seen as a potential first-rounder, but he’s now generally viewed as a mid-second to early-third round type of prospect after a good-but-not-great final season. Plus, teams aren’t sure what Leal’s best position is at the next level.
But surely he would walk in as the Day 1 starter over Lawrence Guy in New England’s three DL-front, right? Not unless the 6-foot-3, 283-pound junior improves as a run-stopper.
Raimann, on the other hand, has seen his draft stock rise since the Combine, as the 6-foot-6, 303-pound senior is seen as a guard or tackle who is considered one of the more athletic offensive linemen. He’s also praised for his run-blocking.
But Raimann also comes with a few question marks, notably his play strength and ability to protect the passer at the next level. He struggled at times during Senior Bowl week practices, with Penn State edge Arnold Ebiketie bull-rushing through Raimann “like he was a wet paper bag,” according to Walter Football.
It would be hard to pass up any of those players, but if the team has already taken an offensive lineman in the first, then look for New England to take a run-stopping defensive tackle as high as the second round. You can find good 2-gap DTs in the third, but none as good as Mathis.
Phidarian Mathis is a bull in a chinashop type of iDL… Stout, heavy handed, technically sound vs the run. But trying to figure out his potential/projection as a pass rusher too.
He can really overwhelm with his power 👀 pic.twitter.com/6x21u4azHi
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) December 15, 2021
If the Patriots have already taken an interior lineman in the first and second rounds, then they may look at receiver, cornerback or even outside linebacker/pass rusher with their third-round pick.
However, if the team still hasn’t drafted an interior player on either side of the line, several “high-floor, low-ceiling” players remain.
Kentucky’s Luke Fortner is a high-character player who can play center or guard; Central Michigan’s Luke Goedeke, like his teammate Raimann, can play guard or tackle, and some think he will have the better pro career of the two; and Memphis Dylan Parham can play all three OL positions, including center after receiving snaps at the position during the week of Senior Bowl practices.
On defense, Arkansas’ John Ridgeway is the highest-remaining true nose tackle who can play inside or outside in New England’s three-man front.
One of the biggest “boom or bust” players in this draft is Fortner’s teammate, Darian Kinnard.
The 6-foot-5, 345-pound senior has the physical traits and nasty play demeanor that teams drool over. In fact, there’s a good chance Kinnard doesn’t make it out of the second round.
However, he had plenty to say about controversial topics during the week of the Senior Bowl and at the Combine which, in of itself, isn’t a big concern. But he also had a rough week during Senior Bowl practices.
From Walter Football: “Kinnard had some highlight-reel plays and some lowlights at the Senior Bowl. Team sources said Kinnard was not coachable in Mobile and did not interview well at the combine.”
Fortner would be a great addition if the team hasn’t already drafted an interior offensive lineman, and the reverse is true: Ridgeway would be a nice compliment to Barmore if New England hasn’t already drafted a defensive lineman.
Pick a guy you think goes on Day 3 – yet plays for 10yrs…
My vote: Luke Fortner pic.twitter.com/iL2GzABeCm
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) March 26, 2022
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