Right before arguably the most-hyped AFC heavyweight clash of the year with the Pittsburgh Steelers and their vastly improved defense that suddenly feels like a Steelers defense again, the Patriots offensive line has some bragging rights of their own. A pair of Patriots offensive lineman are right in the mix of the league’s big-boy elite, according to Pro Football Focus and their “Top 25 Offensive Linemen of the 2017 NFL Season” that came out this week.
Both Pats are in the top 20, actually, just to point that out.
Class of 2015, represent!
That’s a bit of a stretch, given that David Andrews wasn’t actually drafted and signed with New England as an undrafted free agent in 2015, while Shaq Mason was drafted 131st overall in the ‘15 draft. Close enough, though. After just a couple years and some change with the team, both Shaq and Andrews are hanging in some pretty exclusive company at PFF - namely, guys that were much, much hotter draft commodities than they were.
“Shaq Mason ran the triple-option offense at Georgia Tech” is basically the new “Chris Hogan played lacrosse” at this point, so let’s just chill on that. A fourth-round pick and an undrafted free agent sneaking on to a list like this, though? That’s borderline magic, or as they pronounce it in Massachusetts, “Dante Scarnecchia”.
This point absolutely needs to be hammered, because for as often as we hear about college ball isn’t cranking out enough pro-ready offensive linemen, even first-round picks aren’t sure shots at this point. That said, though, here’s the top end of PFF’s rankings with the round and pick they were drafted at:
1. Jason Kelce (C, Eagles) - Round 6, Pick 191
(Ok, so, Kelce is an exception like Mason and Andrews, not the rule. Moving on...)
2. David DeCastro (G, Steelers) - Round 1, Pick 24
3. Zack Martin (G, Cowboys) - Round 1, Pick 16
4. Alex Mack (C, Falcons) - Round 1, Pick 21
5. David Bakhtiari (T, Packers) - Round 4, Pick 109
6. Brandon Brooks (G, Eagles) - Round 3, Pick 76
7. Travis Frederick (C, Cowboys) - Round 1, Pick 31
8. Daryl Williams (T, Panthers) - Round 4, Pick 102
9. Lane Johnson (T, Eagles) - Round 1, Pick 4
You get the idea.
After a few more of the usual suspects that tend to dominate these things, like Cleveland’s guard Joe Bitonio and Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth, we get to Andrews and Mason. Checking in at 18th and 19th respectively (told you they crashed the top-20 party), Andrews gets some shout outs for his second-level blocking and playing much better against nose tackles that sometimes outweigh him by almost 60 pounds on a good day, while Mason gets the obvious props for run-blocking and credit for only giving up one sack in pass-blocking all season long. Mason’s other notable trait, his height – or more specifically, lack thereof (he’s 6’1’’, just a couple inches taller than Julian Edelman) gets noted as well - mostly because if you’re into the idea that the low man in the trenches wins, Shaq’s lower center of gravity helps him hit defensive linemen off the line if he can play his technique.
Another guy who’d be somewhere between a strong possibility and a lock to make some noise here would be 2016 Second Team All-Pro tackle Marcus Cannon, who ended up on Injured Reserve with a nasty ankle injury earlier this week. Elite right tackles, or any kind of tackles for that matter, are worth their weight in gold, and Marcus played so well last year after one of the craziest starts to a career we’ve ever seen that New England spent $32.5 million over five years to keep him around. Based on the All-Pro voting, which is not to be confused with fan voting, only Jack Conklin of the Titans and Mitchell Schwartz from the Chiefs played better than Cannon last season.
Coming into the home stretch of the season and potentially staring down some nasty AFC defensive lines in the playoffs (looking at you, Jaguars, Ravens, and Chargers), David Andrews and Shaq Mason keeping up this type of play and keeping the current favorite for league MVP off the ground could be the...
...actually, scratch that, let’s just take this one game at a time, OK? Cool.