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Why the Patriots Should Consider Drafting a Tackle Early This Year

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Guard, Defensive Tackle, and Cornerback are all discussed daily, but perhaps Tackle may be a larger need

With Solder's impending free agency next offseason, a left tackle could be a need for the Patriots in the 2015 draft.
With Solder's impending free agency next offseason, a left tackle could be a need for the Patriots in the 2015 draft.
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Belichick always drafts with one year into the future in mind, so the question for the first round is which starter does he need in 2016? The answers are Left Guard and Left Tackle. It's likely Belichick could possibly address both needs with just one player for the time being. With Nate Solder in a contract year and playing at the critical position of left tackle, Belichick needs to have a capable replacement at the ready in case the worst happens and Solder walks. Here are some LT prospects to consider in the first round: DJ Humphries, TJ Clemmings, and Jake Fisher. None of these guys are ready to assume the LT position for the 2015 season, which is fine because the Patriots have a well-established starter there right now.

I've already discussed DJ Humphries on the Dante Scarnecchia visits the University of Florida post and I had Jake Fisher (I listed him as a guard on my board, but he's also a tackle prospect) on my Top 10 Fits List (#10), so here's a bit of information on Pittsburgh's TJ Clemmings. Clemmings is a player who could go as high as the top 10 and as low as the Panther's first round pick at #25. A former defensive lineman, Clemmings moved over to the other side of the line. He had a good Senior Bowl showing that cemented him as a first round pick, and is arguably the most athletic offensive line prospect in the draft. It's unlikely the Patriots call his name in the draft given so many teams having a more immediate need for a left tackle in the draft, such as the aforementioned Panthers.

So the question is what happens if Nate Solder does sign a contract extension after you take one of those three left tackle prospects? Now you don't have a future need at the left tackle position, which is always a good thing. Now you have a young and moldable talent you can develop at the other 4 starting offensive lineman spots. All three left tackle prospects are in the 6'5" 305 size range, which means they would likely have to add 10 lbs to their frame if they wanted to flip over to right tackle. Sebastian Vollmer will be 31 when training camp opens up in July, and while the presence of Marcus Cannon and Cameron Fleming should be noted, Humphries or Fisher would be an upgrade in terms of talent. I do think Cannon can be at the minimum an average starter at the RT position, perhaps not a Pro Bowl caliber player like Vollmer, which can allow Belichick to be more creative in utilizing the offensive line talent if he drafts a tackle early.

Another position the Patriots could look to flip them to is left guard. For Bill Belichick and the Patriots, it's about putting the best 11 players on the field. For the tackle to guard conversion, they did that in 2005 when the drafted Logan Mankins, despite having Matt Light and Tom Ashworth as the two bookends. You know the rest of the story with Mankins, who became an All-Pro guard shortly. Humphries and Fisher have the movement skills to be excellent pullers, something Logan Mankins did excellently in his tenure with the Patriots. The Patriots have an immediate need for the left guard position and a future need at the left tackle position, so taking a left tackle that can slide to left guard in the interim kills two needs with 1 draft pick.

For my preference on who the Patriots should draft, I'd do Humphries, Fisher, and then Clemmings. Teams such as Carolina, Denver, and Green Bay could be looking for a tackle as well in the draft, so the Patriots may have to trade up from the #32 pick in order to land one of the three left tackle prospects I have on my first round board. If the Patriots draft a LT prospect and end up signing Solder to a contract extension or re-sign him in free agency, they can use that talent at RT or LG. Moving them to RT eliminates a 2016 need a year in advance and moving them to left guard checks off the guard need in 2015. It's a win-win scenario for the Patriots, as it has the potential to check off two needs for them while only at the cost of one draft pick.