There are few positives to take away from the New England Patriots’ 2020 season. The team struggled at times on both offense and defense, and finished with its first losing season since 2000. It also failed to win the AFC East and qualify for the playoffs for the first time in 12 years. All in all, Year One after Tom Brady was a challenging one for the Patriots.
And yet, not all was bad. New England’s special teams unit was arguably the best in the NFL throughout the season, while other position groups also had their solid moments. Possibly the best among those was the offensive line, which allowed the Patriots to successfully move the football on the ground and also did its job in pass protection — despite the passing attacking as a whole failing to produce consistently positive results.
Accordingly, it was no surprise to see two members of the unit recently get recognized on Pro Football Focus’ list of the Top 101 players of the 2020 season: guard Shaq Mason and offensive tackle Michael Onwenu both made the list as the only Patriots represented.
50. G Shaq Mason
No Dante Scarnecchia coaching New England’s offensive line apparently did little to prevent the Patriots from getting quality play out of their linemen, and they got it both from young players and more established veterans. Shaq Mason was one of them, putting on a run-blocking clinic at guard all season long. He earned an 88.1 PFF run-blocking grade and was a true people-mover at the point of attack — something he’s always been a specialist at, dating back to his college days in a triple-option offense.
After not making the list in 2019, the Patriots’ starting right guard checked in at number 50. Mason had another strong season as a key cog along New England’s offensive line, and benefitted from a) the return of David Andrews to the center spot after a year on the sidelines, and b) the impressive development of rookie Michael Onwenu at right tackle. Playing between those two, Mason again showed why he is one of the best interior offensive linemen in the NFL — and why New England signed him to a five-year extension in 2018.
60. OT Michael Onwenu
Rookie offensive lineman Michael Onwenu was one of the surprise stars of the season. A sixth-round pick out of Michigan, Onwenu started every game of the season for the Patriots, manning three different positions at one time or another and performing well regardless. He was especially good as a run blocker, earning an 84.9 PFF grade in that facet, but also held up well as a pass protector. Onwenu allowed just 14 total pressures all season despite moving around the line.
Few players on the Patriots’ roster stood out as much as sixth-round draft pick Michael Onwenu. The Michigan product went on to appear in all 16 of New England’s games — including three as the starting right guard, one as the starting left guard, and 10 as the starting right tackle. Despite never having played at tackle in college, Onwenu looked outstanding and thus proved that he is not just an NFL-caliber offensive lineman but also likely a building block for New England’s offensive line for years to come.
While Mason and Onwenu making the Top 101 list is encouraging to see, the absence of other players shows that the Patriots have plenty of work to be done over the offseason: they do have some blue-chip talent on their roster, but need to find more contributors on both sides of the ball in order to play competitive football again in 2021.