It is no secret that the New England Patriots love the Senior Bowl. 41 former participants were drafted by the team between 2010 and 2020, including four last spring. Among them was Kyle Dugger, who caught the eye after spending his career at Division-II’s Lenoir-Rhyne.
Despite the uptick in competition, Dugger performed well enough to establish himself as one of the best safety prospects in the class. He was eventually selected in the second round by the Patriots later that spring and later had an encouraging rookie season.
Whether or not Quinn Meinerz will have a similar journey to the NFL remains to be seen, but he certainly was following Dugger’s footsteps at the Senior Bowl: the interior offensive lineman out of Wisconsin-Whitewater was among the standouts this year, and did not seem to be intimated by the competition despite coming from the Division-III level. Meinerz looked the part in Mobile, and now the question becomes if the Patriots agree.
Name: Quinn Meinerz
Position: Interior offensive line
School: Wisconsin-Whitewater (Senior)
2020 stats: N/A (Wisconsin-Whitewater canceled its season due to Covid-19)
Size: 6033, 320 lbs, 10.25 hand size, 33.0 arm length
Expected round: 3rd/4th
Patriots pre-draft meeting: N/A
Strengths: If you had to draw an interior NFL lineman from scratch, he would probably look a lot like Meinerz. He has ideal size at 6-foot-3 and 320 pounds, and showed how to use it in college: as you would expect from an NFL-caliber prospect combining his build with a solid athletic foundation — all while going against Division-III competition — he looked like the best player on the field on any given down. Looking at his tape, you can see more pancakes than on the IHOP menu. That was even true at the Senior Bowl.
Senior Bowl: DIII Wisconsin-Whitewater center Quinn Meinerz wrecking Texas DT Graham (1) & UW DT Onwuzurike (2/3) in the first team period yesterday. Whew. pic.twitter.com/sOTHX6vkvb— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) January 27, 2021
Meinerz’s strength is apparent, but so is his footwork. He is surprisingly nimble for a player his size and routinely keeps his feet active throughout contact, which also allows him to succeed as a pull-blocker — something he was asked to do quite a lot at UW-Whitewater. He also showed an ability to identify his targets at the second level and shows some proper patience before engaging. Once that happens, Meinerz is ruthless: he is physical at the point of attack and able to finish his blocks while using his leverage.
Quinn Meinerz woke up and chose violence against St. John’s pic.twitter.com/t6ZiKSWD3T— Tyler Forness (@TheRealForno) February 22, 2021
Weaknesses: The biggest question when it comes to Meinerz is the level of competition he faced at UW-Whitewater. As noted above, he looked like a man amongst boys at times and won primarily due to pure strength and size rather than by using his technique. Once a player reaches the NFL and has to play against superior athletes, any technical shortcomings tend to get exposed. While the Senior Bowl was encouraging in this area, scouts will have to do a lot of projecting to figure out Meinerz’s ceiling at the next level.
Even though he looked impressive down in Mobile, he also showed some inconsistency when going against quicker players. He might need some time to adapt to NFL speed, and be ready to go up against what next-level defenses will throw at him — from reacting to stunts and twists, to having countermoves available versus swim or rip moves. Meinerz also will have to work on his pass protection after doing a lot more run blocking in college; he needs to show that he can play with proper depth and not be moved into the quarterback.
Why the Patriots? The Patriots’ interior offensive line is facing some turnover this offseason, with starters Joe Thuney and David Andrews as well as veteran backup James Ferentz all headed for free agency. While Andrews is a relatively safe bet to return, New England might be in need of some additional bodies up front to keep one of the best units on the team intact from the perspective of quality and depth. Meinerz would likely not be a starter early on but he could be a versatile and thus valuable backup.
Why not the Patriots? Depending on how free agency plays out, the Patriots might be prompted to invest in more proven commodities to bolster their interior line depth. Meinerz has the upside to develop into a serviceable player capable of even filling a starting role further down the line, but he will likely not be there yet when the 2020 season gets kicked off. New England might therefore prefer to go with a prospect more ready to contribute outside of a backup role right away.
What would be his role in New England in 2020? Regardless of how free agency plays out, the Patriots will need to bolster their interior offensive line depth behind the three starter positions. Meinerz will likely not be able to fill a starting role from Day One, but he could serve as a versatile backup in 2020 capable of playing both guard spots as well as the center position if need be.
What would be his role in New England beyond 2020? While no draft pick is a surefire thing — especially one coming from the Divison-III level — Meinerz has the makings of developing into the next Ted Karras: a reliable and versatile backup player, capable of sliding into a starting spot should one open up either through injury or free agency. Also, with David Andrews and Shaq Mason turning 29 and 28 this summer, Meinerz might be seen as a potential successor for either one of them near the end of his rookie pact.
Does he have positional versatility? As mentioned above, Meinerz will likely be trained to man all three spots in this area at the next level. While he best projects as a guard after having played the position at UW-Whitewater, he also did get some center reps at the Senior Bowl. He was somewhat shaky at that position in pass protection drills down in Mobile, though: Meinerz was just 4-of-9 at center in terms of winning his drills (for comparison, he was 2-of-3 at guard).
What is his special teams value? Offensive linemen generally have little value in the kicking game outside of one area: field goal and extra point protection. He is expected to be used in this area as well, possibly lining up on on the outside shoulder of the long snapper.
Which current Patriots will he have to beat out? The Patriots’ current interior O-line depth does not include pending free agents Andrews, Thuney and Ferentz. Their outlook will impact the picture, but at the time being Meinerz would have to go up against Najee Toran, Marcus Martin and Ross Reynolds to earn a backup spot up front. The youngster should be seen as the favorite simply considering his upside compared to the other three.
Verdict: Even if New England keeps David Andrews in free agency and slides Michael Onwenu into the left guard spot previously manned by Joe Thuney, the team needs to improve its depth behind the starters. Adding a developmental option like Meinerz in one of the middle rounds of the draft would therefore make sense: he can go the Ted Karras route of being a versatile layer of depth that has some upside and could even get starter looks further down the line.