Well, we've arrived at that time of year again. Twenty five days and counting until the Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are back in action, except this time in the war room as they will take their pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
We've all heard of the possible routes the Patriots could take in the pool of talented collegiate players. A pass rusher; a wide receiver, a defensive back. These are very interesting possibilities and are of need if I'm the Patriots, but there remains an option that hasn't been explored a whole lot. What if the Patriots went a different route, a route that hasn't been taken since 1999, and draft a center with one of their first round picks?
Konz, a 6'5" and 314 pound junior has risen through the ranks of many teams' draft boards and remains an intriguing young prospect to anchor a team's offensive line. While at Wisconsin, Konz anchored an offensive line that paved the way for a dynamic Badger offensive led by quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Monte Ball. Konz has been praised by many as an all around blocker, with strengths in run and pass blocking.
In essence, Konz is an NFL ready prospect and is ready to anchor his drafted team's offensive line. The question is which team will look and take the risk on drafting a center in the first round. Here's my take on why the Patriots should seriously look into to selecting the Badger center.
There has been a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Patriots offensive line this offseason. Will Matt Light retire? Will Logan Mankins heal okay from his ACL injury? And who the heck will be this team's center next season?
The Pats already prepared for the first question by drafting Nate Solder last season in the first round, so that's not a big concern. Mankins reportedly underwent successful surgery on his torn ACL, and is expected to be ready for the start of Training Camp. The last question however, remains in limbo.
Currently starting center Dan Koppen, who missed all of 2011 with season ending knee surgery, is a free agent and may not be back next season. The 33-year old Koppen was selected by the Patriots in 2003 out of Boston College and has developed into a consistent all around center, a strong leader, and an option Tom Brady can trust. With the obvious injury risk and the years adding up for Koppen, might it be time for the Patriots to look for a younger replacement? With options like Konz not available this often in the NFL Draft, it may be time to do so.
Konz has the unique build of an NFL center and the fine tools to become an elite pass and run blocker as a center. He also has the backing of his college coach Brett Bielema as a tremendous leader and teammate in his three years at Wisconsin.
In looking through several scouting reports on Konz, it seems that they all say the same. He's a kid that has the potential to be an elite NFL center, but has some minor technique flaws. Sort of reminds me of the Nate Solder pick last year. If we can pace Konz and not rush him, he could take over as a starter in a few years.
That's where the Dan Connolly factor comes in.
Connolly, not Koppen, was re-signed quickly by the team in free agency to a three-year contract worth close to $10 million dollars. In essence, the Patriots like Connolly as a starter, whether it's as their center, or as a guard. With just 14 career starts at center, a move back to guard--the more familiar position--could serve Connolly well.
Drafting Konz would allow the Patriots to have a year to tutor him and fix his technique flaws with Connolly serving as the starter as center. If Connolly does well in his second (near) full season in the middle, they could utilize Konz as the starting right guard when Brian Waters' contract is up in the following season. If Connolly struggles, you can implore Konz as the new starter and shift Connolly back to guard in place of Waters, a place he's more familiar with.
The selection of Konz would allow the Pats to build for the future on the interior offensive line, as last year's selection of Solder did for the tackle position. This offensive line is one of the most consistent units in the NFL year in and year out, but it's important to build for the future so it can continue to be as effective.
There has also been the concern that has risen about whether or not it's worth drafting a center in the first round of the draft. There haven't been to many that have been drafted in the first round over the last few years, but they've turned out well for their team. Names like Alex Mack, Maurkice Pouncey and Nick Mangold have made the quick transition and are thought to be the top three centers in the game today, by many.
He's no Mack, Pouncey or Mangold right now, but Peter Konz is a once in a blue moon, first-round caliber center who could once reach the level of one of these players. The Patriots usually love to take the player with the higher ceiling, and that's what they'll get with Peter Konz. He's potential cornerstone center (or guard) that you can build your offensive line around, and he's a player that Patriots seriously need to consider drafting for the future to look even brighter for the men up front.