The New England Patriots currently have 90 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on September 1 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the offseason, we take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots recapture the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Today, the series continues with New England’s starting left guard.
Name: Joe Thuney
Position: Offensive guard
Jersey number: 62
Opening day age: 25
Size: 6’5, 310 lbs.
2017 review: Despite being a rookie, Joe Thuney was able to earn the Patriots’ starting left guard job in 2016. Delivering an encouraging performance, the former third-round draft selection was penciled in as the top option at the position in 2017. And just like during his rookie campaign, the N.C. State product a) appeared in all of New England’s games and rarely ever left the field, and b) had a solid overall season.
Thuney started all 19 of the Patriots’ contests at left guard last season and was on the field for all but five snaps all season long: the second-year man played 99.6% of offensive snaps (1,134 of 1,139) during the regular season as well as 100% (221 of 221) during the playoffs. He was not only a reliable contributor in terms of availability but also when it comes to performance as both a pass protector and run blocker.
While Thuney had his inconsistencies especially late during the regular season, he took a noticeable step forward when compared to 2016 and ultimately finished the year ranked as the NFL’s 12th best player guard by advanced analytics website Pro Football Focus. Even though PFF’s ranking is not the end-all and be-all of performance assessment, it still reflects that Thuney was indeed a good player for the Patriots in 2017.
He finished the year with solid numbers in both the passing and the running game. Through his 19 appearances, Thuney gave up only 4.0 sacks – fewest among the team’s starting offensive linemen – as well as 13 quarterback hits and 6 hurries. Furthermore, when running behind the left guard position during the regular season, New England’s backs gained an average of 4.1 yards. This number climbed to an NFL-best 5.3 yards in the postseason.
Thuney’s second year in the NFL was therefore mostly a positive one: While he still had his ups and downs and some issues against athletic interior defenders and bull rushers, he became much more consistent particularly as a pass blocker. Limiting the number of mental errors and as a result quarterback pressures, Thuney was able to display the growth you want to see from a player at this early stage in his career.
2018 preview: After missing the Patriots’ OTA and minicamp workouts following a surgical procedure on his foot, Thuney was back on the field by the start of training camp. He immediately returned to his position at left guard and has looked solid during the team’s first eight practices – an encouraging sign considering his surgery as well as the major change that took place at the left tackle position this offseason.
After playing next to Nate Solder the last two years, Thuney is now projected to line up between newly acquired left tackle Trent Brown and center David Andrews. The 25-year old will therefore quickly have to develop the right chemistry with Brown to make sure the offensive line’s communication is at its peak levels once the regular season kicks off in one month – and to keep first-round draft pick Isaiah Wynn from challenging both.
Wynn, of course, served as a starter at left guard and left tackle in college and is a candidate to get elevated into the starting ranks if one of the two projected top options fails to perform. Both appear to do just that so far during camp, keeping the rookie with the second team. If Thuney delivers inconsistent performances during games or has issues with his foot, however, he might see Wynn push for his job rather sooner than later.
That being said, it would still be a surprise if – barring injury – anybody but Thuney started at left guard this season. He is therefore again expected to be the main man in each of the Patriots’ games and among the team leaders in playing time, as well as a rather reliable presence in front of quarterback Tom Brady.