With opening day almost two months away and training camp not starting until later this month, we are still caught in possibly the most quiet part of the NFL offseason. However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop.
During workouts and studying sessions, players still have a chance to lay the foundation for their spots on the team. Over the course of the next few months, we will take a look at the men fighting for them on the 2017 New England Patriots. 53 of currently 90 players will be asked to help the team defend its Super Bowl title.
Today, we will continue the series with one of the Patriots' undrafted rookie signings.
Name: Cole Croston
Position: Offensive tackle
Jersey number: 70w
Opening day age: 23
Size: 6’5, 295 lbs.
2016 review: As has been the case throughout his college career at Iowa, offensive tackle Cole Croston was used in more than just one role in 2016. He appeared at both left and right tackle and also saw playing time as a protector on field goals and punts. However, his season was marked by injury: Croston suffered what later turned out to be a stress fracture in his right foot in late September.
The son of former Green Bay Packers' third round selection Dave Croston was therefore limited to nine games during his senior year with the Hawkeyes. Croston started the first five games of the season on the left side but was moved to the right during a disastrous performance against Northwestern.
The move did not help, as his performances got worse while the injury did the same. Croston struggled as both a run and pass blocker and was ultimately forced to miss four games due to his leg injury. And while he returned late in the season and even became an honorable All-Big Ten mention, he went unselected during the 2017 draft.
2017 preview: Shortly after the draft, the Patriots picked up Cole Croston as a rookie free agent. And even though the 23-year old played exclusively on the perimeter in college, he appears to be a candidate to change positions at the next level: Well suited for a zone blocking scheme like New England runs at times due to his solid movement skills, he could make the transition to the interior.
Croston already worked out at center during the Hawkeyes' pro day and might ultimately settle for one of the three interior spots. But no matter where he ends up – as a tackle, guard or center –, he has a tough battle for practice reps and preseason playing time ahead of him. After all, the Patriots are rather deep along the offensive line and do not appear to have many open spots.
At tackle, Croston would have to beat out five other players to earn what at best seems to be one open spot behind roster locks Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon and Antonio Garcia. The way to New England's 53-man roster is not projected to be any easier on the interior: While the team did not invest draft picks there, Croston would have to win a six-man competition there as well to back up starters Joe Thuney, David Andrews and Shaq Mason.
Given his status as an undrafted rookie and the depth of the Patriots' offensive line, it would therefore not be a surprise to see Croston ultimately among the team's roster cuts. However, given his versatility and raw athleticism, he looks like a bonafide candidate for New England's practice squad. There, he could continue to improve his technique while adding bulk and strength and serving as a third layer of depth at multiple positions.