I have seen a ton of reports that give a wide range for what round TJ Clemmings grades out. I've seen first round and third round. Naturally the first question would be, "Why would they take a tackle in the first round?". While taking a tackle in the first round doesn't make sense in the 2015 season, it could end up as being important for the 2016 season. With Nate Solder as an impending free agent and Sebastian Vollmer now on the wrong side of 30, there are long term issues to consider at the position. I have Solder signing a contract extension with the Patriots in the near future because the current market is set for him at around $7-8M per season. That brings the other long term issue to the forefront, which is Vollmer's age and injury history. The Patriots are fine for the 2015 season in terms of depth with Marcus Cannon and Cameron Fleming as options. Cannon has plenty of experience at right tackle, starting eight games in 2013 for an injured Vollmer. Cameron Fleming has been used primarily as a 6th blocker in their Tackle Eligible formations and when in the starting five played at right guard. So if the team views Fleming as a right guard in their Power Blocking Scheme, that opens up a spot for the Patriots to get a tackle in the draft.
HT: 6'4 1/2"
Arm: 35 1/8"
Vertical: 32 1/2"
Broad Jump: 9'3"
5-10-5 Shuttle: 4.54
vs. Virginia Tech
TJ Clemmings has the talent of a Top 15 OT, but right now his stock is down due to injury flags and teams could stay away because he's not an ideal candidate for left tackle since he's been exclusively a right tackle. At the same time, I would not be surprised if the Patriots packaged either pick #96 or #101 to trade up and take the Pittsburgh Tackle. A former defensive end who also received offers to play college basketball for a couple solid programs such as Seton Hall and Providence. The athleticism is there and he is a tenacious run blocker, but his game needs some refinement because he's only played on the offensive line for two years. Speed rushers tend to get the better of him, a weakness exploited in the Senior Bowl. On top of that, Clemmings struggled in the Senior Bowl when he attempted to overcompensate for that weakness. Despite those flaws, the talent will be enough to make him a first day selection next week. The Patriots are one of the few teams that have the patience to have him learn behind the scenes and not have the pressure to perform in his rookie year. Solder and Vollmer aren't going anywhere in 2015, and I reasonably expect both players to be Top 5 players at their respective position. So how would Clemmings contribute to the team in 2015?
There are two possible answers to that question. The first answer is developing him as a tackle. In that case, the Patriots could take advantage of Clemmings' run blocking skills and utilize him as a 6th OL in their tackle eligible formations. The Patriots don't have to settle on that as an option if they don't want to, as Fleming excelled in that role last season. I see Fleming as an average RT while Clemmings could be a Top 3 player at the position. The second answer is moving him inside to left guard. The one drawback to that is that answer is very short term focused plus Clemmings would have to learn another position. The upside to that move though is that accentuates his strengths and mitigates his weaknesses. Clemmings is a great athlete when asked to block in space and at the second level. Long term, I see him as a Pro Bowl RT and another building block on the OL on the opposite side from Solder. A Nate Solder contract extension and selecting TJ Clemmings solidifies the OT position for the next five years and would allow for the transition from Tom Brady to Jimmy Garoppolo (or someone else if the Patriots trade Jimmy G in 2017).
While the Patriots don't have a pressing need at OT in 2015, if Clemmings falls to the 32nd pick of the draft, the value may be too good to pass up. The Patriots have a precedent of taking players in a draft as a hedge for key players potentially playing their last season in New England. The most common example cited will be Matt Light, who played LT for the Patriots from 2001 to 2011 before passing on the baton to Nate Solder. However in that season, Matt Light was still a free agent (because of the lockout) when the Patriots picked Solder 17th overall in the draft. That minor detail aside, picking Clemmings does have that same feel in terms of the big picture view as the Solder selection 4 years ago. I see Clemmings as the long term replacement for Sebastian Vollmer at the right tackle position. On a side note, I have a really strong gut feeling that Clemmings will be the first selection for the Patriots next weekend (I can't really explain it, it's just there).