You are all well aware of the situation with the lockout and the draft. Every GM say that the strategy during the draft won't change, you still pick BPA. I can understand that. But there is uncertainty on the Patriots OL, both at guard (Neal retiring, Mankins contract situation) and at Tackle (Light is a free agent, Kaczur refused a paycut...) So what I'm going to do here is explain why Patriots OL are a bit different from other teams, and then I'm going to give you my grades on some of the prospects in this year's class.
Playing offensive lineman in the Patriots' offense :
NE plays a hybrid man/zone blocking scheme, NE OL have to be able to drive block on one play, and be quick enough to get to their zone assignment on the next. NE favors kids who are dancing bears in pass protection who quickly transition to stampeding wildebeest in front of running backs, receivers, and tight ends for screens. NE OL don't just block on the second level against linebackers between the tackles, they have to play in space. Agile, mobile, hostile - it's a job requirement.
OL measurables on the Patriots roster :
I like watching O-line play, but I'm not the most gifted analyst when it comes to breaking down a player's skillset during games (with all those helpful camera shots of ankles and helmets and crowds). To compensate I use a blend of my lying eyes, NFL Draft Scout profiles, and some specific Combine/Pro-Day drill numbers.
Historically, NE seems to favor "starters" who can generate enough leg drive to push 300 lbs 30" or more in a vertical jump. Mankins 31.5", Kaczur 31.5", Vollmer 36.5". I have no jump data for Light (though as a converted TE he probably skyed okay too), Koppen had 28.5" but he was also a fifth round pick. Neal never went through the Combine or a Pro-Day, but he was a world class wrestler and anyone watching him move around a football field had little doubt about him. That 30" benchmark seems pretty solid; they've had successful reserves who didn't get that high - Hochstein reached 26.5" (5th round via Tampa), Connolly 28.5" (undrafted via JAX) - but "starter" is the operative word when assessing if a kid has the type of leg drive NE seems to prefer.
The next thing which stands out about NE starters is agility numbers. 4.5 second short shuttles and 7.5 second 3-cone drills or better seems to be preferred if they are going to take a kid high. Mankins 4.5/7.5, Light 4.5/7.3, Vollmer 4.5/7.5. Klemm is the other OL drafted in the top two rounds, I have no data on him, but he was switching from OT to TE and back while at Hawaii, so I'd say he was athletic enough. The next two highest drafted OL, I have no data on Kenyatta Jones (For what it's worth, he was a basketball player for USF which suggests good foot speed) and Kaczur has 4.8/7.7 for his agility (3rd round)
Let's look at some 2011 draft OL prospects after the jump :
By the numbers:
- Tyron Smith: 4.7/7.5, 29" (fresh off knee rehab)
- Anthony Castonzo: 4.4/7.3, 29.5"
- Gabe Carimi: ??/??, 31.5"
- Nate Solder: 4.3/7.4, 32"
- Derek Sherrod: 4.6/7.4, 28"
- James Carpenter: 4.8/7.6, 28.5"
- Ben Ijalana: 4.7/7.8, 25.5" (fresh off sports hernia surgery)
- Dan Watkins: 4.6/7.6, 26"
With the exception of Ty Smith, these are all college left tackles. Ijalana and Watkins are projected inside to guard by most draftniks, but Watkins has been discussed as a good right tackle and Ijalana is still considered by some to be worth consideration at left tackle in the NFL.
By the numbers:
- Smith is borderline with mitigating injury factors and the fact he just packed on 20+ lbs and is still growing into his new body.
- Castonzo is a shade below desirable in one measure.
- Carimi's lack of agility numbers is troubling because that's one area he gets negative reviews on from film.
- Solder meets the mark.
- Sherrod is probably a third rounder.
- Carpenter is probably a fourth rounder.
- Ijalana is definitely day three with those numbers coming from a small school, injury or no.
- Watkins is a day three pick.
By my lying eyes watching tape :
- Smith is a big question mark, I watched USC to check him out and he did nothing one way or another while I was watching. (The left tackle Kalil was a stud.)
- Castonzo is meh. He's there, he's playing, he's keeping the QB clean and he's hitting someone, but I don't see the fire or nasty Scar loves.
- Carimi is a run blocking beast, pass protection is okay. If he was an inch shorter I'd move him inside (for a hawg team like Philly or Dallas or Pittsburgh - not NE's stampeding wildebeest brigade).
- Solder, he's raw, but he moved people, looks like a young Vollmer.
- Sherrod is okay, like Castonzo, okay.
- Carpenter, I thought he would make a good NE guard the first time I saw him and nothing since has changed that.
- Ijalana, one game, he seemed to have it all, but it was an FCS semi-final, so good competition, but not SEC.
- Watkins, loved him
If I'm ranking the OT :
2. ??? probably Jah Reid, move Vollmer to LT and see if this kid can beat Kaczur and LeVoir for RT.
If you want to guess which OT will be picked by the Patriots, one other factor to consider is the coaching relationship connection.
- Ty Smith's O-line coach, was the O-line coach for the 2007 and 2008 Oakland Raiders.
- Castonzo, BC and Scar have a long relationship.
- Carimi, none I can see.
- Solder's O-line coach transitioned Tom Ashworth from TE to LT; NE's new asst. S&C coach was the asst. S&C coach at Colorado last season, and worked with Mankins and Wendell at Fresno State.
- Sherrod, the O-line coach was at Florida and coached Hernandez.
- Carpenter, BB and Saban. His O-line coach retired, he was an OL coach and OC in the NFL for years so I'm sure Scar and BB new him.
- Ijalana, his O-line coach has been there 12 years, we know NE likes their safeties.
- Watkins, his O-line coach worked with Vollmer at Houston.
Now remember I am not an expert, and this is not the only and whole truth. This is just my opinion. Hope you enjoyed the reading, and that my approximate English didn't bother you that much.
Edit : I did evaluate the OT, but the Playing offensive lineman in the Patriots' offense paragraph is valid for guards too. So you won't hear from me that I love Pouncey (even without the consideration of his brother's success in the NFL). Just not a Patriot guy in my book.