With opening day still more than two months away and the mandatory portion of the initial wave of offseason workouts over, we have entered the more quiet parts 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 the Patriots’ starting right tackle.
Name: Marcus Cannon
Position: Offensive tackle
Jersey number: 61
Opening day age: 29
Size: 6’5, 335 lbs.
2016 review: For the Patriots, the 2015 season ended in disappointment and one unit in particular exemplified the team's undoing in the AFC title game: the offensive line, most prominently right tackle Marcus Cannon. The times they are a-changin', though, and only one year after his worst season as a pro, Cannon established himself as one of the best right tackles in the NFL.
After original starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer was placed on the physically unable to perform list prior to the season, Cannon was again thrust into a starting role. As opposed to last year, however, he was up to the task. With Dante Scarnecchia returning as offensive line coach and 2015’s turf toe injury behind him, Cannon was able to live up to the potential he flashed early in his career and became a reliable presence on the right side of the line.
Overall, Cannon appeared in 15 of the Patriots’ regular season games – missing the team’s week five contest against the Cleveland Browns because of a calf injury – and all three of New England's playoff contests. He was on the field for 92.9% (1,033 of 1,120) of offensive snaps during the regular season and all 242 during the postseason.
A steady blocker in both the running and the passing game, Cannon (via NESN.com) allowed a total of four sacks, 10 hits and 31 hurries over the course of the season – a noticeable improvement when compared to his 2015 stat-line of 5.5/19/32 (despite playing four more games in 2016). A refined technique and better footwork all helped him elevate his game to new heights not only in the passing game but as a run blocker as well.
When running behind the right side, the Patriots gained an average of 3.43 yards per carry during the regular season; a number that improved to a team-best 4.43 during the playoffs. And while his postseason was as impressive as the rest of his season, Cannon's marquee game came in week 15 against the Denver Broncos: 11 months after being dominated by Broncos star linebacker Von Miller, Cannon returned the favor.
He was an integral part of keeping Miller virtually invisible throughout the game. All in all, Cannon's performance against Denver perfectly encapsulated how the former fifth round pick was able to bounce back from a disastrous 2015 campaign to become one of the league's premier right tackles.
2017 preview: In late November, the Patriots signed Marcus Cannon to a five-year, $32.5 million contract extension that will keep him in New England through the 2021 season. The deal made clear how the team views Cannon and his future prospects: He is the right tackle of the present and the future. Consequently, his role on the 2017 Patriots is already set in stone.
Cannon will return as New England’s starting right tackle. As such, he is projected to rarely leave the field and play close to 100% of the team’s offensive snaps. And if the 2016 season is any indication, the 29-year old will once again be among the NFL’s elite players at his position – a dominant force at times when it comes to both pass protection and run blocking.
Considering how Cannon appeared to be on the roster bubble just one year ago, he has turned around his career quite well. With another year of experience as a starter and playing alongside right guard Shaq Mason, another Pro Bowl-worthy season by the former fifth round draft pick would not be a surprise.