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2021 NFL draft: Patriots taking a close look at two top-tier offensive linemen

Related: #PostPulpit Mailbag: Where do the Patriots go from here?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 07 Old Dominion at Virginia Tech Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the first wave of free agency in the rear-view mirror, the New England Patriots’ offensive line stands as one of the best units in the NFL — one that has considerable talent at the starting-five positions and some solid depth behind them as well. Nonetheless, the team is taking a close look at some potential draft targets up front.

Carmen Bricillo, one of the Patriots’ co-offensive line coaches alongside Cole Popovich, is currently on a scouting tour and recently worked out two top-tier linemen: Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw and Tennessee’s Trey Smith.

Darrisaw is one of the most intriguing offensive tackles in this year’s draft. An imposing figure at 6-foot-5, 315 pounds, he checks all the boxes a team would want from a starting lineman and first-round selection: he has the size, length, moving skills and technical foundation to develop into a bona fide offensive tackle at the next level.

There is little doubt that Darrisaw would be a fit in New England due to his abilities as both a pass protector and a run blocker. The question is whether or not the Patriots would truly invest a Round One pick in him. With Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown the projected starters there is no immediate need to improve the position.

That said, New England will have to make a call on Wynn’s fifth-year contract option this spring while Brown is headed for unrestricted free agency next year. There is a chance that both will be gone by 2022. Adding a high-upside succession plan a year early would therefore make plenty of sense from the Patriots’ perspective, and ensure the quality up front for years to come regardless of what happens with Wynn or Brown.

As for Trey Smith, he will not be drafted in the first round next month. He is still one of the better interior O-linemen this year, though, and should be selected on Day Two. A powerful blocker who has experience at tackle but projects best as a guard, he would bolster New England’s depth behind projected starters Michael Onwenu and Shaq Mason — and possibly take over for the latter at one point.

At the moment, New England has veteran Ted Karras as a versatile backup option behind Onwenu and Mason. Smith would give the team a high-upside developmental player alongside him, as well as an upgrade over the other interior blockers currently under contract.

While it remains to be seen if the Patriots go after one of the two in the draft, they should be expected to add to their offensive line. After all, New England has picked at least one O-lineman every year since 2014.