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Patriots OT Antonio Garcia was the only tackle drafted in a span of nearly 100 picks

This wasn’t a strong draft for offensive tackles. The Patriots made sure to add one with the most upside.

ESPN’s Mike Reiss spoke with a handful of talent evaluators to get their sense of the New England Patriots draft class, and they sang a similar tune for each player. High upside prospects that needs a lot of work with strength and conditioning. Nothing we didn’t already know based on watching on the tape.

But I was particularly drawn to the analysis of 85th overall pick OT Antonio Garcia.

“There were only a couple guys that you’d say are surefire starters [at offensive tackle], and then Antonio fell into the next group,” one evaluator said. “But here’s the thing: After Antonio, there was nobody else.” That likely explains why the Patriots gave up a third-round pick (96) and fourth-rounder (124) to move up 11 spots to select him. He initially projects as a swing tackle, or even a No. 4 option, but has high upside.

While this evaluation of offensive tackle prospects isn’t really a surprise either, I decided to look back at this weak offensive tackle draft.

As the evaluator said, there were only a few “surefire starters” at the position, including Utah OT Garrett Bolles (20th to the Denver Broncos), Wisconsin OT Ryan Ramczyk (32nd to the New Orleans Saints), and Alabama OT Cam Robinson (34th to the Jacksonville Jaguars).

These players were not as well-regarded as offensive tackle prospects in previous drafts, but they were considered the cream of the crop.

Western Kentucky OT Forrest Lamp (38th to the San Diego Chargers), Temple OT Dion Dawkins (63rd to the Buffalo Bills), and Western Michigan OT Taylor Moton (64th to the Carolina Panthers) could all potentially play tackle in the NFL, but they are projected to move inside to guard in the NFL.

Then came Garcia at 85th overall to the Patriots, as the only tackle drafted between 34th (Robinson) and 129th (Florida OT David Sharpe to the Oakland Raiders). That’s a span of 95 picks.

Garcia was all alone in a tier because he came from a small school, despite his proven ability, high upside, and offensive tackle-sized physical frame. All players after him were considered projects. All players before him came from larger programs and were the “surefire starters.”

The Patriots needed to add an offensive tackle prospect to the roster in the event that LT Nate Solder doesn’t return after the 2017 season. Garcia was the perfect high-upside prospect that came at a discount due to his school. As Reiss notes, the fact that he was all alone in his draft tier justifies the premium the Patriots paid to move up and select him.