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2020 NFL draft: Patriots bolster their offensive line in Todd McShay’s first mock draft of the season

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 27 Pinstripe Bowl - Iowa v Boston College Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New England Patriots’ offensive line has had its fair share of ups and downs so far this season, with the tackle position in particular being one inconsistency — not just because of its play but also due to some personnel turnover: at left tackle, Isaiah Wynn took over for Trent Brown during the offseason but had to spend eight weeks on injured reserve after hurting his toe; he was replaced in the lineup by free agency pickup Marshall Newhouse.

On the other end of the line, Marcus Cannon held down the fort but he too missed time because of injury: he left the season opener and missed Week 2 due to a shoulder ailment. Even when healthy, however, the veteran has had some issues at right tackle. Add it all up and you get why the Patriots could be looking to upgrade the positional depth at tackle over the course of the offseason. And what better place to start than the draft?

The Patriots will once again pick comparatively late, but there are numerous intriguing tackle candidates that could be on their radar. According to Todd McShay, one in particular could be worth taking a closer look at over the upcoming weeks and months: in his first mock draft of the season, ESPN’s draft analyst named Iowa starting right tackle Tristan Wirfs as New England’s selection near the end of round one.

McShay offered the following rationale:

Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa*

The obvious need here is quarterback, though New England might want more time to evaluate Jarrett Stidham as the future if Tom Brady ever calls it quits. But losing Trent Brown after the 2018 season opened a need for an offensive tackle opposite Isaiah Wynn. Wirfs is athletic and has some upside.

As McShay correctly points out, the quarterback position is the biggest question mark for the Patriots heading into 2020: Tom Brady will be 43 years old, his free agency status is up in the air, and backup Jarrett Stidham has done little to show he could lead the franchise. That being said, New England does not go quarterback in this mock — Washington’s Jacob Eason and Georgia’s Jake Fromm are still available — but instead invests in its O-line.

Wirfs certainly is an intriguing candidate. While the underclassman has not yet declared whether or not he will leave school to enter the draft, he should become a highly sought-after option if he indeed opts to go pro: his size is ideal for the position at 6-foot-5, 320 pounds, and his athletic upside and physicality are both tremendous while he has shown an ability to perform well as both a pass protector and a run blocker.

“Highly impressive in terms of mobility, body control, posture and functional strength,” writes The Draft Network about the soon-to-be 21-year-old. “His anchor in pass pro won’t be compromised very often — his ability to leverage his hips, bow his back and maintain the width of the pocket against power rushers is outstanding. Keeps his hands held high in his stance, primed are ready to strike which leads to efficient punches. There are some technical issues but he absolutely has the foot speed to keep pace up the arc and set roadblocks against speed rushers.”

In New England, Wirfs would likely be groomed as the replacement for the aforementioned Marcus Cannon. While the 31-year-old can still be a serviceable option at right tackle, looking for a replacement sooner rather than later would be smart considering that the Patriots like to have their offensive tackles sit as the third/swing-tackle option — they did the same with Nate Solder in 2011 and wanted to go that route with Wynn too in 2018 before he injured his Achilles — before inserting them into the starting lineup.

Of course, a lot of uncertainty remains. How will the Patriots’ roster look like after free agency (Tom Brady, Joe Thuney, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Devin McCourty are all up for new contracts)? Is offensive tackle seen as a major need compared to other positions such as quarterback? And will Wirfs even declare for the draft? Those questions won’t be answered until a few months from now, and they will all impact what New England will eventually do in late April.