Despite injuries and personnel movement the blocking up front was the strength of the New England Patriots’ offense in 2020. And even though the group lost long-time starting left guard Joe Thuney in free agency, that is still projected to be the case heading into the new season.
New England retained center David Andrews, acquired Trent Brown via trade, and brought back Ted Karras from his one-year stint in Miami. While Thuney and veteran right tackle Marcus Cannon will wear different uniforms in 2021, the Patriots have done plenty to ensure their offensive line remains one of the best in football.
With all that said, bringing more developmental depth into the fold is never a wrong move given that a) Karras is headed into free agency again next year, and b) the starters at center (Andrews) and right guard (Shaq Mason) are not getting any younger.
Name: Michal Menet
School: Penn State (Redshirt Senior)
Opening day age: 24
2020 stats: 9 games (9 starts); 15 quarterback pressures given up (3 sacks, 2 hits, 10 hurries)
Size: 6041, 301 lbs, 76 3/4 wingspan, 31 1/2 arm, 10 hand
Workout numbers: 26 bench press
Expected round: 4th-5th
Patriots pre-draft meeting: N/A
Strengths: Menet’s measurements and athletic profile may not jump off the page but he is a fine technician capable of doing his job at an adequate level. He has a sound understanding of what is going on around him and has shown the ability to react accordingly while keeping a stable anchor and using his core strength to drive defenders off the ball. He also offers some solid short-area moving skills in combination with an advanced vision.
Whether on the line or at the second level, this allows him to identify his guy and get to him. He also has shown that he can keep his feet under him and stay balanced through contact. Menet also has plenty of experience in the shotgun game; he will have to get more reps in the classic quarterback-center exchange game but should have the technical foundation to do just that.
Menet has been praised for his leadership while his status as a two-time team captain is a concrete example of that. He also offers plenty of experience at the center position, having started 34 games over the last three seasons. With centers responsible for getting those around them in position and communicating with the quarterback, he will enter the pro level with a solid baseline football IQ.
Weaknesses: If you are looking for an impressive and well-built athlete along the interior offensive line, Menet is not your guy. With the exception of his height none of his measurables are in the 65-plus percentile among comparable players. His arm length in particular is far from ideal (9 percentile) and has created issues for him in the past: he knows how to get a solid first punch, but defenders with longer arms have been able to neutralize him.
His size does not stand out, and neither does his functional athleticism on the field. Menet lacks the burst to get off combo blocks, while his strength to keep pushing forward especially in the running game is underwhelming. He oftentimes relies too much on his feet to get the job done, which can lead to some balancing problems. He also has had some placing issues with his shotgun snaps, with some of them coming in higher than intended.
Even though he entered Penn State as a highly-ranked guard prospect, Menet might be a center-only prospect entering the next level. Unless teams feel confident in his ability to learn the other interior positions his projection will be a more narrow one.
Why the Patriots? Menet checks plenty of boxes from New England’s point of view. He may not be the best athlete in the class and have a lower ceiling than other offensive linemen available earlier, but he is a multi-year starter and team captain. He also offers a sound technical makeup to build upon and maybe turn into a starter along the interior offensive line one day — all for the price of a Day 3 draft selection.
Why not the Patriots? New England already invested considerable resources in its interior O-line this offseason. With the center and guard position in safe hands, the question becomes whether or not investing in a solid but not necessarily high-upside backup really is the best way to spend resources? Add the fact that Menet is a center-only prospect so far, and the Patriots might be prompted to look in another direction.
What would be his role in New England in 2021? As noted above, the top-three along the interior offensive line are set in stone: David Andrews will be the starting center, flanked by Michael Onwenu and Shaq Mason on his left and right shoulder. The primary backup role, meanwhile, will be held by Ted Karras — leaving Menet to take a de facto redshirt season while he is learning the ins and outs of the system and possibly the guard positions as well.
What would be his role in New England beyond 2021? While there is a chance the Patriots’ interior top-four are kept in place beyond 2021, it would not be a surprise if Menet took over Ted Karras’ role as the next man up along the interior — and not just that. Based on their contracts there is a realistic chance that Shaq Mason, David Andrews and Michael Onwenu will leave after the 2021, 2022 and 2023 seasons, respectively. Menet could be looking at a starting role at one point further down the line.
Does he have positional versatility? Menet played 2,397 combined offensive snaps during his three seasons as the Nittany Lions’ starter, with all of them coming exclusively at the center position. While he did play guard in high school, his positional versatility is therefore only theoretical upon entering the NFL. If joining the Patriots he will likely be trained at more than one position, but whether or not he is up for the challenge is another question.
What is his special teams value? Regardless of where the Patriots project Menet to play, he could see some action in the kicking game right away. With the exception of their starting centers, they usually employ all of their linemen as protectors on field goal and extra point attempts. The rookie would likely not be an exception, despite lacking experience outside of the center spot.
Which current Patriots will he have to beat out? With Andrews, Mason, Onwenu and Karras all locks to make the roster, Menet would compete for the fifth interior offensive line spot as a rookie. He would therefore go up against Marcus Martin, Najee Toran and any additional players that might be added in the draft or through rookie free agency.
Verdict: Menet is not the most flashy prospect the interior offensive line has to offer this year due to his comparatively average athletic profile, but he has the intangibles New England is looking for and therefore cannot be ruled out as a potential late-round target. The Patriots found out time and again how important quality depth can be, and the youngster would be just that at a reasonable price.