On paper, the New England Patriots are well-set at the offensive tackle position heading into the 2021 season. Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown are locked into the left and right starting spots, with Justin Herron, Yodny Cajuste and Korey Cunningham offering depth behind them. Last year’s starting right tackle Michael Onwenu — a candidate to move to the vacant left guard position — is also still on the roster as an emergency option.
While the short-term outlook is a good one, the Patriots have considerable questions beyond this year. Brown is playing on a one-year contract, while Wynn could hit free agency as well depending on whether or not New England picks up the fifth-year option in his rookie contract. The developmental depth options are either unproven (Herron, Cajuste) or headed for the open market as well (Cunningham).
Offensive tackle is therefore an under-the-radar need the Patriots might want to address early in this month’s draft. If they want to do that with their first-round pick, Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw might be a viable option.
Name: Christian Darrisaw
Position: Offensive tackle
School: Virginia Tech (Senior)
Opening day age: 22
2020 stats: N/A (Opt-out)
2019 stats: 10 games (10 starts); 6 quarterback pressures given up
Size: 6046, 322 lbs, 82 1/8” wingspan, 34 1/4” arm, 9 1/4” hand
Expected round: 1st
Patriots pre-draft meeting: Pro Day
Strengths: At just under 6-foot-5 and 322 pounds, Darrisaw has the size you are looking for in an NFL-caliber offensive tackle. Despite being among the heaviest players at his position in this year’s draft, he has shown considerable fluidity out of his stance, as well as the flexibility to keep himself from getting beat around the edge in pass protection. He is able to stay square and shields off well.
Darrisaw also has the solid athletic foundation and length to work well in zone blocking schemes. His balance helps him to stay in control even when moving in tight quarters, while he has shown good control and impressive vision whilst moving in open space. He is an exceptional pull blocker able to diagnose his intended target down the field. He also can drive defenders off the ball once engaged in them.
The 21-year-old has also displayed plenty of growth over the course of his college career at Virginia Tech and has not reached his ceiling yet. He brings a solid technical foundation to the table, which should help him early on in his career while he still works to become stronger and grow into his frame. Darrisaw also has displayed some good durability in college: he has started all but two games over the course of his three years as a Hokie.
Weaknesses: Offensive linemen entering the draft always have room for growth, and in Darrisaw’s case this means adding strength. He was overpowered from time to time at Virginia Tech and needs to become better at translating his frame into either a consistent push up front in the running game or a solid absorbing effort as a pass protector.
Darrisaw also needs to get more consistent in applying his technique. While he is already comparatively advanced and has come a long way since his 2018 freshman season, he also plays a bit upright at times and needs to learn to get low at a higher consistency, especially when faced with speed rushers around the edge capable of bending around the corner.
Why the Patriots? As noted above, there is a chance the Patriots will have to replace at least one if not both of their starting tackles next offseason. Having Darrisaw in the fold would make this transition an easier one. While he already has starting potential entering the league, he would be well-suited for such a role either on the left or right side come the 2022 season.
Why not the Patriots? New England’s biggest need heading into the draft is, of course, the quarterback position. Investing a first-round pick in Darrisaw would all but eliminate the team’s chances of selecting one of the five top-tier guys on Day 1 of this year’s draft as well, meaning that the Patriots would have to go after a lower-tier QB to possibly develop into a long-term starter one day. Would this trade-off be worth it?
What would be his role in New England in 2021? With Wynn and Brown under contract and locked into their respective roles on the left and right end of the line, the Patriots would not have to rely on Darrisaw to play a starting role as a rookie. Instead, he would probably take the Nate Solder route: when Solder was selected 17th overall in 2011, he initially served as a third/swing tackle before taking over as the left tackle in 2012. Darrisaw’s first year in New England would probably look similar.
What would be his role in New England beyond 2021? If the Patriots part ways with either Wynn or Brown following the 2021 season, Darrisaw would be moved up the depth chart into one of the vacant starting spots. He has the size and upside to play both of them, which could factor into New England’s decision making as it relates to the current starters. Either way, Darrisaw would be expected to become a starter in 2022 and beyond.
Does he have positional versatility? Even though he was used exclusively at left tackle at Virginia Tech, Darrisaw has the size and strong anchor to succeed on either side of the line. Not just that, he also could be moved to the guard spot as well — making him a potential candidate to replace Shaq Mason in case New England wants to move on from him at one point after 2021 as well.
What is his special teams value? As is the case with most offensive linemen, Darrisaw’s special teams value is comparatively limited. His size and athletic profile prevent him from having an impact in the kicking game beyond field goal and extra point protection units.
Which current Patriots will he have to beat out? Darrisaw would be a lock to make the roster if drafted by New England in his projected range midway through the first round. When it comes to earning playing time as a rookie in 2021, however, he would compete against the three backup tackles mentioned above — Justin Herron, Yodny Cajuste, and Korey Cunningham — as well as any other potential additions in the draft or through rookie free agency.
Verdict: Isaiah Wynn has flashed his talents repeatedly since arriving in New England in 2018, but has missed considerable time over the last three seasons due to injury. Trent Brown took a pay cut just to return to the Patriots, but that does not mean he will re-signed in free agency next year as well. If one or both of them are not in the team’s plans beyond this season, drafting a player of Darrisaw’s caliber and high ceiling should be a no-brainer — especially if New England is not in the range to select one of the top-tier quarterbacks.