The New England Patriots’ offensive line will look quite differently this year than the one the team fielded during Super Bowl 52. While the interior starters are still expected to be the same, the two tackle spots will no longer be manned by Nate Solder and Cameron Fleming: Long time left-side starter Nate Solder now plays for the New York Giants; Fleming left the team to sign a free agency contract with the Dallas Cowboys.
While the left tackle spot is still up for grabs – both rookie Isaiah Wynn and trade acquisition Trent Brown have a shot at the starting role –, the right will again be held down by Marcus Cannon. The veteran ended the 2017 season on injured reserve after hurting his ankle in week eight, but is expected to return to the starting lineup when the Patriots start the regular season at the latest.
With Cannon back in the fold, the Patriots will not only have plenty of experience on their right side but also one of the NFL’s premier run blockers. In fact, no offensive tackle – left or right – has been as successful a road grader in the running game last season as Cannon: According to advanced analytics website Pro Football Focus, he earned a league-high 15.3% run-block success rate last season.
Cannon has always been a productive run-blocker for the Patriots even before earning a full-time starting spot. The 30-year old was at his best in 2016 – when he filled in for injured Sebastian Vollmer – and turned his performance into a five year, $32.5 million contract extension. In 2017, his first season as the undisputed day-one starter, Cannon continued where he left off but after eight very good games saw his season come to an early end.
During his eight games, however, Cannon was lights out especially in the running game: According to PFF, he earned the second-highest grade among all offensive linemen in the league from weeks one through eight – further illustrating how big of a loss his season-ending injury was for the team. Luckily for New England, the 6’6, 335 lbs behemoth will be back this year to lock down the right side of the line.
With Solder leaving for New York, having a high-quality player on the opposite side of the offensive line certainly is a plus for the Patriots. And if the past is any indication, Cannon will be just that again in 2018 – especially when it comes to blocking for running backs Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, and company.