A year ago, the Patriots shocked draft analysts and fans alike with the selection of Nate Solder with the 17th overall pick.
The team then made a shrewd move in the fifth round and took the mammoth Marcus Cannon from TCU. Once thought to be a second-rounder, Cannon fell because of medical concerns when he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.
Fortunately for the Pats, both rookies gained valuable experience in 2011, although I’m sure most didn’t envision Solder starting 13 games.
While Solder still has work to do in the weight room and in pass protection, he looks like a potential Pro Bowler down the line. Cannon has tremendous size and strength and could be an option at right guard if Brian Waters retires or doesn’t return.
Along with the two rookies, the Pats are set at left guard with perennial Pro Bowler Logan Mankins and right tackle (assuming Sebastian Vollmer gets healthy). However, center could be a position they wish to address in the draft along with depth on the interior.
Let’s take a look at five potential Patriots on the offensive line.
1. Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin: For almost a decade, the Pats have relied on tough, athletic and undersized players on the interior. Konz fits the first two characteristics, but would be a considerable size upgrade. The 6-foot-5, 315-pounder started 30 games in three seasons at center and is considered an intelligent player. He does have some injury concerns, but would be able to play guard or center. He is projected as a late first-rounder.
2. Ben Jones, C, Georgia: Playing in the SEC is no joke, especially when it’s in the trenches. Jones has squared off against the likes of Marcel Dareus, Michael Brockers, Terrence Cody and Josh Chapman during his four years in Athens. Jones is renowned for his initial quickness off the snap and has a ton of starting experience. Needs to get stronger, but should be a starter at the next level. He is projected as a second-round pick.
3. Mike Brewster, C, Ohio State: A former five-star recruit, Brewster opted to leave Florida for Ohio and hasn’t looked back. Although he isn’t an elite athlete, Brewster is a tough-nosed, nasty center who has good technique. He’s a worker who makes the calls at the line and will be a leader. He is projected to go between rounds three and four.
4. Kevin Zeitler, G, Wisconsin: The Badgers churn out offensive linemen every year, so it’s no surprise that Zeitler joins his teammate Konz on this list. Zeitler will draw comparisons to Seattle’s 2011 third-round pick John Moffitt, but Zeitler is more athletic and plays with better leverage. The 6-foot-4, 318-pounder is well regarded for his downfield blocking and is dependable. He is projected to go between rounds two and three.
5. Will Blackwell, C/G, LSU: The Patriots love versatility, and Blackwell fits their mold of a guy who can play multiple positions. He’s battle-tested in the SEC and was named a First-Team All-American by several media outlets. His best football may be ahead of him once he gets stronger. He is projected to go in the middle rounds.