In March 2016, the New England Patriots surprised many when they traded starting defensive edge and former first-round draft pick Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals. In return for the then one-time Pro Bowler, the club received two assets: guard Jonathan Cooper, who did not appear in even a single game for the Patriots before his release in early October of the same year, and the 61st overall selection in the 2016 NFL draft.
When the draft came, New England used the Cardinals’ former pick to move down the board and pick up a pair of selections in the process: a third-rounder (78th overall) and a fourth-rounder (112th overall). While the fourth-round pick turned into a promising player that unfortunately saw his career cut short by injury — wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell — the third-rounder grew into a core member of two championship squads.
The player in question, of course, is guard Joe Thuney. A versatile offensive lineman in college, the N.C. State product was put on the interior by the Patriots and the move paid dividends right away: Thuney was a starter on the offensive line that won Super Bowl 51 in his first year with the club. Two years later, the now-26-year-old is a two-time world champion and one of the most reliable offensive linemen in all of football.
After all, he has missed only 12 offensive snaps over the course of his three-year career so far: Thuney was on the field for 4,081 of a possible 4,093 snaps. His durability is one of his biggest but far from his only strength: since joining the Patriots, he has also improved significantly both as a run blocker and as a pass protector. In 2018, for example, he was rated as the seventh best guard in all of football by advanced analytics website Pro Football Focus.
His development and performance over the last three years make Thuney one of the top players to enter the league in 2016 — at least according to SB Nation’s Christian D’Andrea, who recently tried to rank the best players from the 2016 draft class. New England’s starting left guard comes in at number ten on a list that is headed by three quarterbacks (the Dallas Cowboys’ Dak Prescott, the Philadelphia Eagles’ Carson Wentz, and the Los Angeles Rams’ Jared Goff).
“Thuney has yet to make a Pro Bowl roster, but the former third-round selection has developed into one of the league’s most reliable interior blockers under the guidance of legendary line coach Dante Scarnecchia,” Christian writes about Thuney. “He was part of a unit that allowed the decidedly un-nimble Tom Brady to be sacked just one time in the postseason and limited Aaron Donald to just one QB hit in Super Bowl 53.”
“While Thuney earned a glowing pass-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus in 2018, his duties in the run game were equally impressive; the third-year guard paved the way for New England’s most efficient rushing offense since 2013,” Christian continued. “While he may not have the accolades of more-lauded 2016 blockers like Jack Conklin, Cody Whitehair, or Ronnie Stanley, his gradual improvement suggests he may make the leap to All-Pro in 2019.”
While the outlook for 2019 remains a bit unclear when it comes to Thuney — he is projected to again start at left guard but played exclusively at tackle during offseason practices open to the media — the reliable former third-round draft choice will once again play a prominent role in New England’s offense, no matter where he will eventually line up. He will therefore likely position himself well for a major pay-day.
After all, Thuney is entering the final year of his contract and projected to cash in either via a long-term deal with the Patriots or an open market contract. Option one is the preferable from New England’s perspective, obviously, but whatever happens we know one thing for sure: the Patriots made one of the better selections in the 2016 draft when they picked Joe Thuney.