For the weeks leading up to the 2011 Draft, we will be examine the Patriots’ biggest positions of need and compare the top prospects available. Today we will look at offensive linemen.
For the past decade or so, the offensive line has been one of the team’s biggest strengths. Although it hasn’t featured only one first-rounder (Logan Mankins), it has been a stable unit that’s kept Tom Brady upright and opened holes in the running game.
But with Stephen Neal (retirement), Matt Light (free agent) and Logan Mankins (possible hold out) possibly gone, the 2011 starting five may feature several new faces.
While there are no top-10 franchise tackles available, there are more than five who qualify as mid- to late-first round talents. The draft is also strong in the middle rounds for interior prospects.
With that said, here are some of the best fits for the Patriots’ system.
A former 5-star recruit, USC’s Tyron Smith has the most upside of any offensive tackle in the draft.
At 6-foot-5, 307 pounds, the former tight end has impressive athleticism, running a 4.93 forty and completing 31 reps on the bench press despite 36-inch arms.
Smith’s experience as only a right tackle in college is seen as a knock, but with his physique and athleticism he is the ideal left tackle.
Unlike Smith, Boston College’s Anthony Castonzo has a ton of experience at left tackle.
The 6-foot-7, 311-pounder started a school-record 53 games and was the blind-side protector for Matt Ryan.
He is viewed as a finesse player and must improve his strength to be effective as a run blocker.
Wisconsin’s Game Carimi is a throwback offensive lineman who makes his money as a run blocker.
He combines his 6-foot-7, 314-pound frame with great agility and is more of a complete player than Castonzo.
Some teams may view him as a right tackle because of his lack of great athleticism, but he has plenty of experience on the left side to get a shot.
My pick: If the Patriots go with an offensive tackle in the first round, I would lean towards Smith. While it may take a trade up to get in front of Detroit, I think he’s the best fit for the Patriots’ system. He and Vollmer can play both tackle positions and would compliment each other well. I tend to think Castonzo is overrated and his strength deficiencies will be exposed against the larger and more physical defensive linemen in the NFL.
At the guard position, there are two first-round possibilities in Florida’s Mike Pouncey and Baylor’s Danny Watkins.
Mike is the twin brother of Steelers Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey. Both played at Florida and were key contributors on the Gators’ 2008 national championship team.
Pouncey doesn’t have the top-notch athleticism of his brother, but has the size and toughness to exceed as a guard at the next level.
The 26-year-old Watkins took an unconventional route to playing football, but has impressed with his pure toughness and strength.
The former firefighter and hockey player replaced Jason Smith, the second overall pick in the 2009 draft, at left tackle and the Baylor offense didn’t skip a beat.
Many compare him to Logan Mankins and believe he will make a great guard at the next level with his body type and toughness.
Georgia’s Clint Boling and Wisconsin’s John Moffitt are road graders who could get a look in the third round.
My pick: If I had the choice between Pouncey or Watkins, I would rather take Watkins with our second first-round pick or the No. 33 pick than use our higher selection on Pouncey. Watkins would be the ideal replacement for Mankins and has the ability to possibly play tackle as well. His maturity, toughness and aggression would be a welcomed addition to a line that doesn’t feature many big-time talents.