It's early April and football fans are starving.
In Foxborough, those that were stuffed from the feast that was Super Bowl 51 and the ensuing madness of the free agency period have awoken from their Patriots-induced comas — and they have emerged even hungrier.
The rumors surrounding Malcolm Butler and Jimmy Garoppolo seemed to be enough to hold fans over until the draft, but bones of those narratives were quickly picked clean. Lethargically, fans now trudge their way through what feels like a Grand Canyon-sized rift in the NFL calendar. Stuck in this void between free agency and the draft, they search for anything to keep their football craving at bay.
Meager bite-sized morsels such as the retrieval of stolen jerseys, the workout of a future Hall of Fame running back, and the ousting of Phil Simms are quickly devoured, leaving little doubt that other pre-draft appetizers like the NFL schedule release and New England's April 19th White House visit will fail to provide any prolonged football sustenance. Even the Patriots' draft itself, a perceived beacon (not bacon) of hope for the football-famished Foxborough faithful, appears stripped of its usual frills and excitement, thanks to the lack of draft pick capital on days one and two.
Nonetheless, the draft will inevitably arrive. It will bring tiny glimpses of Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio's vision for the roster in 2017 and beyond. Each draftee represents one of those glimpses. Once selected, each pick is laboriously overanalyzed in hopes that a pattern will emerge, and answers to the questions surrounding the roster's future will be known.
However, those patterns rarely emerge. It is not uncommon for Belichick's draft classes to spawn more questions after the draft than before it.
The one storyline that this year’s draft should be able to provide the most clarity on, whether by action or inaction, is the future of left tackle Nate Solder in Foxborough. An unrestricted free agent after the 2017 season, Solder can head into next offseason without fear of being hit with the franchise tag due to a provision is his current deal which prohibits the Patriots from doing so.
Unlike the right tackle position, which was solidified by extending 2nd-team All-Pro Marcus Cannon this past November, the team’s future at left tackle has yet to be addressed if Solder were to move on. Given the team’s current depth chart, it is unlikely that Solder’s replacement is on the roster right now. Cameron Fleming, also a an unrestricted free agent next offseason, would presumably be the next man up, followed by LaAdrian Waddle, who was active for only two games in 2016 as a reserve.
With the future of the position still unaccounted for, this draft is sure to shed light on the state of contract negotiations between Solder and the team. The Patriots currently select at 72, 96, and 131 in a draft widely considered weak at the tackle position. Using one of these picks on a tackle would be an obvious sign that the team is building for a future at the position without Solder, while a developmental selection in the later rounds could bode well for the progress of contract talks.
Some conspiracy theorists will have you believe that the future left tackle is in fact on the roster already — Joe Thuney. Yes, Thuney has college experience at the position, but the thought is that he doesn’t possess the arm length or foot quickness to play left tackle in the NFL.
Clearly the best outcome for Patriots fans would be having Solder inked to a long term deal. But without one currently in place, the team may be forced to start formulating a contingency effort. If they need to go down that road, these could be some candidates to consider.
Potential 3rd-4th rounders:
Antonio Garcia - Troy
Weight: 303 lbs.
Arms: 33 3/8’’ - Hands: 9 7/8’’
Draft projection: Round 3
Although some say his frame is too wiry, no one is questioning Garcia’s athleticism. A three-year starter at Troy, Garcia was the anchor of an offensive line that allowed the fewest sacks in the country in 2016. You have to go back to early in Garcia’s junior year to find the last sack he was responsible for.
Julie’n Davenport - Bucknell
Weight: 318 lbs.
Arms: 36 1/2’’ - Hands: 10 1/2’’
Draft projection: Round 3-4
Offensive Line Coach Dante Scarnecchia already has gotten his mitts on this All-American in a private workout last week according to MMQB’s Albert Breer. He has used his elite physical makeup to dominate the competition at the lower levels, but NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein believes he may need to be drafted as a project to give him some time to adjust to NFL pass rushers.
Adam Bisnowaty - Pitt
Weight: 304 lbs.
Arms: 33 7/8’’ - Hands: 11 3/8’’
Draft projection: Round 4
Although many believe a move to right tackle could be in Bisnowaty’s future because of a decrease in athleticism from injuries, the four-year starter still showcases ideal size and physical traits.
Potential late rounders:
Brad Seaton - Villanova
Weight: 327 lbs.
Draft projection: Round 6-7
Most 6’8’’ athletes from Villanova are known for their jump shots, but not Seaton. There hasn’t been much reported on Seaton, so he simply makes this list because of his workout last Friday with the Patriots that was reported by Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.
Max Rich - Harvard
Weight: 311 lbs.
Draft projection: Round 7-UDFA
The only way this two-time All-Ivy Leaguer could seem like a more perfect fit, should the Patriots take a late round tackle, would be if he moonlighted as a lacrosse player. His optimal size appears to be accompanied by solid athleticism according to his 7.18 second three-cone time according to NFLdraftscout.com
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