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Patriots 2015 Rookie Review: Guards Tre Jackson and Shaq Mason Show Early Promise in First Season

The New England Patriots have had issues with the offensive line over the past three years.

In 2013, Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton made future Patriots Hall of Fame guard Logan Mankins look awful in the AFC Championship game as quarterback Tom Brady couldn't buy a second of time in the pocket to complete a pass on crucial downs.

In 2014, the Kansas City Chiefs game happened in week 4, where the Patriots dynasty ended with the likes of Marcus Cannon and Cameron Fleming playing guard. Luckily Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell were waiting in the wings to right the ship en route to winning Super Bowl XLIX.

In 2015, the line was a disaster and there was no veteran on the bench that was able to come and rescue the team. Offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo lost his job and the Patriots relied heavily on young players to carry the team.

While sophomore tackle Cameron Fleming was asked to play a substantial amount at tackle (41.8% of all the snaps!), and while rookie center David Andrews had to hold down the pivot (68.3% of snaps!) until sophomore center Bryan Stork returned from injury, the spotlight was the most bright on the Patriots pair of 4th round rookies, Tre Jackson and Shaq Mason.

4th round, 111th overall, OG Tre Jackson: Jackson battled a knee sprain, but still contributed on 54.4% of all offensive snaps this season at right guard. He rotated in and out of the line-up with third-year veteran Josh Kline and offered a fairly balanced season.

Jackson was below-average in both pass protection and in the running game, but he wasn't awful in either facet. He was merely serviceable and that's pretty good for a rookie. As a player, he offers good size, but his foot speed is lacking, which prevents him from being a great run blocker in open space, and also prevents him from recovering once beaten by a defensive tackle.

Unless Jackson improves his mobility, he's never going to be an adequate starter- but he's still young and there is definitely time. Jackson might not be a lock to make the roster, but he's definitely in the inside lane to be the 3rd guard behind Kline and Mason.

4th round, 131st overall, OG Shaq Mason: Mason dealt with knee injuries of his own, but he stayed on the field for 65.9% of the offensive snaps. He spent the regular season at left guard, but the coaching staff decided to throw a curveball in the playoffs and flipped Mason to right guard against the Chiefs and Broncos. He played what were probably his best two games of the season in the playoffs.

Mason was a right guard coming out of college, so he seemed far more comfortable at that role. He's already arguably the best run blocker on the team, but his pass blocking was atrocious to start the season. While he's still not at an "average" ability in pass protection, his athleticism and potential is off the charts.

It's very possible that Mason could take the starting right guard spot and everyone will point to Mason's rookie season with the same light as when Bill Belichick tried to make Matt Light a right tackle; sometimes a player is just perfect for one role.

If Mason is able to take over the right guard spot, that would leave Kline as the left guard, unless the Patriots bring in a veteran free agent- or maybe even allow center Bryan Stork to compete for the spot if David Andrews gains enough strength to be a viable starting center.

While Mason isn't a lock for the roster either (no 4th round sophomore is), he's a better prospect than Jackson and he's as close to a lock as you can get. His upside is fantastic and he will hopefully be blocking for quarterback Tom Brady for the next decade.