The New England Patriots invested considerable resources in their offensive line over the last three drafts: after picking tackles Isaiah Wynn and Yodny Cajuste in back-to-back years, and following last year’s addition of interior lineman Hjalte Froholdt, the team added three more players to the fold during last week’s virtual college player selection meeting. The first of the three was Michael Onwenu, who the Patriots chose with the 182nd overall pick.
The big-bodied Onwenu — he was measured at almost 6-foot-3 and 344 pounds at the scouting combine in late February — is no lock to make the team based on his status as a sixth-rounder, but he does bring some intriguing skills to the table. His size obviously stands out, but so do his experience and impressive agility given his frame. On top of it all, he also sees himself as a pro-ready player based on his experience at Michigan.
While it remains to be seen how this claim holds up, the league obviously thinks highly of players from John Harbaugh’s program: 10 members of the Wolverines were selected during this year’s draft, second most behind only the 14 players picked out of national champion LSU. The Patriots are responsible for two of those selections in the form of Onwenu and linebacker Josh Uche, who the team selected in the second round.
“I think it goes hand-in-hand with the school and the football,” Onwenu said about Michigan players entering the draft. “I mean, obviously we come from a good school, one of the best public schools, and have some of the best coaches that are out there. We’re always being put in good positions to succeed on the field and off the field and we’re pro-ready. As you could see in our last year’s draft class, most of our guys are already contributing in the NFL.”
Making the transition from the college level to the NFL is one of the biggest challenges for any rookie, and Onwenu will be no exception despite the program he is coming from. And yet, the 22-year-old feels confident in his ability to not just adapt quickly to his new surroundings, but also to perform at an adequate level in order to carve out a roster spot behind the Patriots’ starting interior linemen (center David Andrews, guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason).
“I went through two offenses, so I’ve had a background of multiple schemes and plays that will be easier to transition to at the next step,” Onwenu said before also speaking about going against different defenses during his collegiate career: “I think it’s set me up greatly. Going from practice to game, and other defenses... Don Brown, he brings something different every week. It’s keeping me specifically on my toes, just having me ready for everything.”
While this experience, plus the fact that the he enters the NFL with 35 starts under his belt, certainly is impressive, Onwenu might have to become a more well-rounded player in order to have a realistic shot at making New England’s roster or practice squad as a depth player: all of his starts came exclusively at guard, with all but one of them from the right side of the formation. That said, the rookie expressed a willingness in lining up elsewhere if need be.
“During the pre-draft process, there wasn’t really any talk of specifics. But I would style myself in terms of playing any position that’s needed, whether that’s tackle, guard or center,” he said about being moved around the formation, adding that he has some experience snapping a football even though he never actually played the center position. If Onwenu can do more than “only” play guard, however, and show some versatility on top of his natural talents, he could prove a valuable member of the Patriots’ offensive line in 2020 and beyond.