The scouting website Pro Football Focus have provided their grades for the New England Patriots offensive line so we can best formulate a unit to protect quarterback Tom Brady and to block for running backs Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount.
It doesn't take a professional scout to realize that the Patriots offensive line was abysmal last year. It was also incredibly apparent that last season's unit was awful across the board. Here's how the players grade out. Rookies are not included.
Depth Chart: David Andrews, Bryan Stork
In a quick twist, Andrews rated out one rank better than Stork (20th vs 21st), but both were below average starters. Andrews was actually the team's best pass blocker and it wasn't even close- Stork was the 2nd worst pass blocker of the Patriots interior linemen.
On the other hand, Stork was the team's 2nd best run blocker and his size advantage over Andrews (nearly 2 inches and 20 pounds) can't be taught. Andrews was the team's 2nd worst run blocker on the interior, but it's not that he was bad; it's just that the Patriots interior linemen were actually very good run blockers.
Andrews offered a similar level of ability in both the passing and running game, while Stork was a far superior run blocker than pass blocker. This consistency, as well as the Patriots reliance on the passing game, is what gives Andrews the edge over Stork.
Andrews and Stork rated as the 2nd and 3rd best offensive linemen on the team.
Depth Chart: Josh Kline, Shaq Mason, Jonathan Cooper, Tre Jackson
Kline was the team's best offensive lineman at any position. He was the best run blocker on the squad and rated as a very good #2 guard; the issue for the Patriots is that Kline was asked to be the team's #1 guard. Kline was the team's 3rd best pass blocker, but his performance dropped as soon as he injured his shoulder.
Hopefully a player like Mason can continue his ascent and become a viable #1 guard next season, to reduce pressure on Kline. Mason was the team's 2nd best guard and the offensive line's 3rd best run blocker behind Kline and Stork. Unfortunately Mason rated out as the worst pass blocker on the interior line- something that the coaching staff will not overlook.
Cooper is now the team's 3rd highest rated guard, offering a balance in both the passing and running game. While he's still below-average in both from a leaguewide standpoint, he rates as the Patriots 4th best pass blocker and 6th best run blocker.
Jackson was the worst interior lineman on the roster. While Mason and Cooper rated out as mid-level #2 guards, Jackson ranked 62nd in the league at the position and performed at a replacement level. He, sadly, was the Patriots 2nd best pass blocker on the entire offensive line, but he was the 2nd worst run blocker. He's going to be fighting for a roster spot with 3rd round rookie Joe Thuney in the fold, along with 6th round rookie Ted Karras.
Depth Chart: Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Cameron Fleming, Marcus Cannon, LaAdrian Waddle
For as bad as the interior line performed, every single tackle graded worse than Jackson. That's how awful the tackles were in 2015 and it raises some concerns as to why the Patriots didn't focus more resources on the edge.
Solder and Vollmer received nearly identical grades in both pass protection and run blocking as both were regarded as mid-level #2 tackles. Hopefully a healthy season from Solder and the return of Dante Scarnecchia will help Solder re-find his top tier ability.
Surprisingly, Fleming was the Patriots next best tackle, just ahead of Cannon. For the sake of comparison, Fleming and Cannon were regarded in the same tier as Jackson and should be considered replacement level prospects. Both players were atrocious pass blockers and sub-par run blockers.
For as bad as the line performed, LaAdrian Waddle was the only player to rank outside of a starting position in Pro Football Focus' rankings (ie: top 32 center, top 64 tackle or guard). Waddle was the 77th rated tackle and was the Patriots worst pass blocker and run blocker. Of course a lot of his grade is linked to his time with the Lions, so perhaps a season with the Patriots will elevate his performance.
The Patriots do not have an above-average starter at any position, according to their 2015 performances. Kline was the best player and that rightfully raises plenty of concerns.
According to PFF, the best pass blocking line would be: Solder - Kline - Andrews - Jackson - Vollmer
The best run blocking line would be: Solder - Kline - Stork - Mason - Vollmer
The best Patriots offensive line would read: Solder - Kline - Andrews - Mason - Vollmer.
This is a fair line-up, although it's more likely that Stork will be the starting center due to his size. Perhaps more discussion about Andrews as a more balanced option at center is needed.
Cooper would serve as the team's top back-up guard, with a real chance to beat out Mason in order to provide superior pass blocking. Mason's run blocker is undeniably superior to Cooper, but he will have to prove that his playoff performances in pass protection weren't a fluke.
The competition on the offensive line will be the most important story line this offseason- probably even more important to the total success of the year than Brady's pending 4-game suspension. The fact that the Patriots didn't add any help at tackle- not including Thuney- deserves scrutiny, and a lot weighs on the continued development and health of the young interior linemen.
Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia will certainly have his hands full.