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David Andrews: The Patriots' long term starting center or in need of a replacement?

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Andrews has always been an overachiever, but can he keep it up?

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

David Andrews’ ascension from a player that wasn’t invited to the combine to starting center on a Super Bowl winning team is an incredible story. A former UDFA in 2015 out of Georgia, Andrews signed for a modest 15,000 guaranteed, but quickly rose up the depth chart in training camp and preseason. He impressed with his play so much that he won the starting job due to injuries and played every snap for the first 9 games of the season his rookie year.

Andrews has been one of the most polarizing players on the Patriots roster. A main concern amongst fans and analysts is that he is not an ideal starter at the position due to his undersized frame. So far, Andrews has had success in spite of that static weakness. He improved his PFF grade (where 70 is average) from 74.2 his rookie year to 79.8 this past year. But going forward, can we expect that to continue?

Run Blocking

This has been Andrews’ most pronounced weakness since he entered the league. Despite showing very solid technique, sometimes Andrews simply gets overpowered because of his size disadvantage.

The above screenshot is from the AFC Divisional Round game against the Texans back in January. It’s a very high leverage situation: 3rd and goal at the 1 at the end of the first half. There’s less than 20 seconds on the clock, so the failure of this play resulted in a 4 point swing. Blount is attempting to run off tackle behind Martellus Bennett and a Cameron Fleming/Nate Solder double team. Thuney and Andrews are cut blocking on the backside. Thuney gets big Vince Wilfork on the ground...

...but Andrews can’t do the same for DJ Reader. Reader manages to keep his balance and out leverage the smaller Andrews. He disrupts Blount’s path to the end zone enough for the rest of the Houston defenders to swarm and make the tackle.

While run blocking may always be a weakness for Andrews, he did made major improvements his sophomore year. For the most part, he holds his own just fine against 4-3 DTs. And against the heavy 3-4 NTs that give him issues, he’s improving.

Andrews stands up Vince Wilfork rather easily on this play and then heads to the next level to take on the LB.

Pass blocking

Andrews’ biggest strength is his pass blocking, and he’s arguably the best at it on the entire offensive line. What I like about the Thuney-Andrews-Mason interior is that Andrews is the “glue” that holds together 2 below average pass blocking guards. One of the only ways to beat Tom Brady is to get consistent pressure in his face, and Andrews has made his pocket much cleaner than Stork or Wendell before him. According to Jeff Howe, Andrews gave up the fewest combined sacks/hits/pressures of anyone on the O-Line.

Brandon Thorn from Inside the Pylon had a great breakdown of Andrews from this year, and put together some impressive tape of Andrews blocking in the week 2 game versus Miami.

Contract

Andrews was rewarded with a nice contract extension in May. However, the contract that he got was not even close to market value, and some of the recent contracts for centers and interior O-Linemen further show how big of an outlier his deal is. In a similar situation to Malcolm Butler’s contract extension discussions, the Patriots technically could control Andrews for 2/3.6 (the total of his original 2017 base + the 2nd round tender approximation in 2018), making his 3/9 extension essentially a 2/5.4 deal. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Andrews has the most team friendly contract on the Patriots, and likely the most team friendly center contract in the entire NFL.

Spotrac

With a signing bonus of just 1.6 million and an average value of only 3 million per year as a center, Andrews is criminally underpaid. This offseason has seen new extensions for Eric Wood (2/21.3), Brandon Linder (5/51.7), and most recently, Justin Britt (3/27). In particular, the Britt deal is really confusing. He’s a former 2nd round pick that pretty much struggled every year of his career except last. He was so bad at RT that he had to move to LG. He was awful at LG as well so the Seahawks made a last ditch attempt to save his career at C and he finally put up a good year. 1 year of production earned him 9 million/year a full year before UFA.

Even if Andrews earns all of his 2.1 million in NLTBE incentives, he’s still has a very much below market value deal. And perhaps that indicates how the Patriots aren’t completely sold on Andrews long-term. After all, they were reportedly one pick away from drafting a replacement for him in April, and they signed him to an extension that allows them to part ways with Andrews as soon as 2018.

Leadership and Intangibles

Andrews is a football guy. He lives and breathes football and has an understanding of the game you’d expect from a 10 year vet. Andrews has yet to miss a practice or appear on the injury report in his career. A captain at Georgia by his sophomore season, Andrews has become the “ringleader” of the Patriots offensive line by his 2nd season as well.

One thing I noticed about Andrews from watching him the last 2 years is how he interacts with his teammates on the field. After the Patriots score a touchdown, I almost always see the cameras pan to Andrews giving Brady a congratulatory headbutt or him in the end zone, cheering on the receiver or running back. Andrews and Brady took over 1000 snaps together last year and establishing that kind of positive relationship is crucial.

What really stood out to me last year was Andrews’ maturity during the Bengals game. Gronk was dominating the Bengals secondary in the 2nd half, but things got chippy, as is tradition for any team that employs Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones.

In all three scuffles, Andrews is the first person in to stand up for his teammates. That doesn’t go unnoticed.

Conclusion

I’ve made my opinion on Andrews very clear over the last couple years. I say with no hyperbole at all that I think Andrews will be a 10+ year starter for the Patriots, and I was sold on him week 2 of his rookie year. But as is the case with many gritty and physically underwhelming players, there is a cap on his ceiling. As the scouts say, “you can’t teach size”. Andrews will never be an All-Pro player but the amount of progress and leadership he’s shown over his first 2 years in the NFL makes me believe that he is definitely a franchise center for the Patriots going forward.