Under Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots have adopted a ‘better too early, than too late’ mentality. We’ve all seen and acknowledged that it’s something that they do when cutting, trading, or choosing not to re-sign aging stars, but it’s also a mentality that they’ve applied to the NFL Draft.
New England has selected players within the top 100 picks despite a real lack of need at the position, instead opting to find a talented player that they believe can be developed in their system before eventually breaking out. James White, Trey Flowers, and Damien Harris all come to mind as players whose careers yielded great results despite seeing limited action early on.
One such player that New England could target in 2021 is Trevor Penning. A pre-draft process darling, Penning has all of the tools to become a future blind side protector at the next level. Will New England pull the trigger and see if they can be the team to develop him into a star? Let’s find out.
Name: Trevor Penning
Position: Offensive Tackle
School: Northern Iowa (RS-Senior)
Opening day age: 23
2021 stats: 15 games.
Size: 6’6”, 330lbs
Expected round: 2nd
2022 #Patriots Draft Target Thread— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) February 3, 2022
OT Trevor Penning
(6’6” - 330lbs)
The #SeniorBowl’s shining star along the offensive line, Penning is a plug-and-play day one starter who fits the #Patriots’ system like a glove. pic.twitter.com/9RvGLmN8W6
Strengths: Trevor Penning is a finisher. He plays with a bad attitude, looking to plant his opponent on their backside each and every play.
Physically, Penning is an imposing character. He’s got a long, filled in frame with a thick lower half that helps him drive off the ball. If he gets his hands in the frame of a defender, it’s a wrap. He uses that frame to create leverage and control the opponent’s body.
First and foremost, Trevor Penning is a finisher. It’s not good enough to block something up well, he likes to punish his opponents.— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) February 3, 2022
If you let #70 put the paws on you, you’re finished. pic.twitter.com/gnATmtifhC
As nasty as he is, Penning is also a confident athlete and has no issues changing direction or finding his way to a spot. He’s quick into his set and stays light on his feet. He stood out at the Senior Bowl because in a week where rushers had free rein over their paths in one on ones, Penning played them like a mirror and came out on top on the majority of his reps.
He is an extremely smooth mover at 330lbs. Pass sets are polished and he does a good job of changing direction in the short area. Here he is displaying just about all of his positive traits in one rep. pic.twitter.com/Y80u6xvAIk— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) February 3, 2022
Weaknesses: Trevor Penning was a dominant force at the FCS level. The odds of having that continue to be the case at the NFL level are slim. Without having faced any real NFL talent, Penning’s projection to the next level is a bit harder to cultivate.
Other than coming from a lower level division one school, the majority of Penning’s weaknesses are a bit nit-picky. It’s nice to see him play through the whistle, but with that comes an undisciplined approach that will almost certainly get him in trouble on the field. NFL pass rushers are too smart to get away with some of the stuff that he tries. In addition to his approach, Penning has had some balance issues at times. He tends to lean on his run blocking reps and sit too far back on his pass sets. The number one issue that young offensive lineman tend to have is forgetting to play within themselves and overextend. Seeing that those are Penning’s top two issues, it’s easy to see why he’s been so polarizing throughout the pre-draft process.
What would be his role? When drafting an offensive lineman in the top 50 picks, the hope is that they can be a starter for years to come. Penning’s case is no different, unless we’re talking about year one. Depending on how New England handles the free agent candidacy of Ted Karras and Trent Brown, Penning could either find a spot on the starting unit or serve as the top reserve tackle.
Either way, Penning’s going to be drafted as a future starter.
Does he have positional versatility? A nice thing about Trevor Penning that has helped him stand out above others is his positional versatility. He started at left tackle, right tackle, and left guard in college, and showed off that guard/tackle versatility in the Senior Bowl as well.
Penning is the kind of prospect where if everything possible goes wrong, he could still be a Pro-Bowl level guard. Versatile, nasty, and athletic. “Best player available” type fit for the #Patriots pic.twitter.com/goNufEQDoQ— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) February 3, 2022
Who’s his competition? The Patriots currently do not have a right tackle. After ending the year with six starting caliber offensive lineman, they’re about to see two test the free agent waters, including starting right tackle Trent Brown. It would make sense to see former starter Michael Onwenu slide back into a starting role at guard where he is a natural fit. Penning’s only potential competition would be Brown, depending on if he ends up back in New England after free agency.
Why the Patriots? Trent Brown is a free agent and Isaiah Wynn is headed into the final year of his rookie contract. That means neither of the Patriots’ 2021 starters at tackle are signed past this upcoming season. Eventually one or both of them will need to be replaced and Penning is a fit.
Why not the Patriots? With the amount of needs the Patriots have, taking the “better too early than too late” route in the first round of the draft isn’t all that enticing. Penning is bound to go early and the Patriots would likely have a number of players on their board who would provide more value early on.
Verdict: Offensive tackle is one of the most important positions in football. In terms of value that it brings to the success of a team, it’s probably only second to quarterback. Despite the lack of immediate need, teams in New England’s position wouldn’t pass over a player at a premier position. If Penning is there and a premier cornerback or wide receiver isn’t, they should pull the trigger.