The New England Patriots have a number of questions to answer this offseason.
How will they handle J.C. Jackson’s unrestricted free agency? Will they retain the services of veteran leaders Matthew Slater, Dont’a Hightower, and Devin McCourty? Can they find Mac Jones a number one receiver? Those are all questions on the minds of Patriots fans, but one that may be flying under the radar is how the team is going to address their future needs at tackle. Trent Brown is a free agent and Isaiah Wynn is entering the final year of his rookie contract.
With a couple of decisions to make at tackle, New England’s easiest way to address any needs they may have at tackle is through the draft. With other – more pressing – needs, the Patriots would be well served to look at value. That’s where Obinna Eze comes in, as he could be the 2022 class’ best value option at tackle.
Name: Obinna Eze
Position: Offensive Tackle
School: TCU (RS-Senior)
Opening day age: 23
2021 stats: 11 games.
Size: 6’8”, 315lbs
Expected round: 3rd/4th
2022 #Patriots Draft Target Thread— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) March 3, 2022
OT Obinna Eze#TCU
(6’8” - 315lbs)
Quickly becoming one of my favorite mid round prospects, Eze is about to skyrocket up some teams’ boards when they find out how big and athletic he really is. pic.twitter.com/yU2oPNdVAM
Strengths: Obinna Eze has some of the longest arms you will ever see. At 36 ⅛”, they’re longer than fellow 6-foot-8 tackle Trent Brown’s. It’s not just a fun fact either, Eze knows exactly how to leverage his length by keeping rushers out of his frame and controlling their paths from his set. As a run blocker, he’s able to move swiftly off the ball and does a great job of positioning his big body. In his pass sets, Eze likes to get on top of the rusher by setting short and overpowering them.
First and foremost, Eze’s arms are 36 1/8” long. For comparison’s sake, that’s 1/4” longer than Trent Brown and 6% longer than the average player at his height.— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) March 3, 2022
As you can imagine that makes it hard to get inside his frame. He’ll make you dance with him. pic.twitter.com/Ldsk4vzGpx
One of the real treats in watching Eze is seeing just how patient he is. He allows things to develop and never pushes his luck. A lot of power tackles like to press and t hat can get them into trouble because they don’t have the recovery ability needed to do so. Eze, despite being relatively new to the game, has patience that veteran players dream of.
Weaknesses: Speaking of being new to the game, one wonders if NFL teams could be scared away by his lack of experience. A Nigerian native, Eze came to the states looking to pursue a basketball career. Prior to his final high school season he gave football a shot and quickly rose to become a four star recruit and number nine overall player in Tennessee. This is all impressive, but six years of football experience may not be enough for a team that needs to add a potential starter. At this point in his development, there’s no way of knowing what level a player Eze can truly become.
A Nigerian native, Eze came to America to pursue basketball and didn’t start playing organized football until his junior year of high school.— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) March 3, 2022
He has shown some technical deficiencies but his natural instincts are great. Super patient. pic.twitter.com/W1cMsQ7WHj
On top of the lack of experience, Eze is a modest athlete who projects to be just adequate at the next level. I usually don’t like to knock lineman for their lack of game changing athleticism, but mixing that with a huge lack of experience raises the red flags.
What would be his role? If you take an offensive lineman within the first four rounds there is a hope that they could eventually become a starter. Eze has the exact makeup of a guy that you could essentially redshirt in his first year before allowing him an opportunity at a starting role. Think Yodny Cajuste but without the medical setbacks. New England hoped for him to take a big step in year two and that didn’t happen. Perhaps with a different background but same potential, it could work with Eze.
Does he have positional versatility? I think Eze will be stuck as a right tackle. His athleticism isn’t going to cut it at left tackle in the NFL, and it may not even be enough to kick inside to guard. He’s a brick wall, the only spot that teams could feel comfortable placing him is opposite the quarterback’s blindside.
Who’s his competition? New England has a lot more at tackle than many people think. Justin Herron, Yodny Cajuste, Yasir Durant, and Michael Onwenu are all options to earn a bigger role at tackle next year. That’s not to mention the fact that New England could always lock up Trent Brown or Isaiah Wynn with extensions. It’s a full room, the question is how much talent New England believes is there.
Why the Patriots? There are a number of players on the list that seem to be maxed out in terms of potential. Herron is a swing tackle who can fill in from time to time. Cajuste is a back end of the roster player who was a healthy scratch for most of his first full season. Yasir Durant can play guard or tackle but does neither particularly well. Obinna Eze is a player who immediately raises the ceiling of an offensive line grouping compared to the others listed.
Why not the Patriots? What’s the worst case scenario for New England in 2022? Trent Brown doesn’t re-sign, Michael Onwenu slides over to right tackle, and Ted Karras or another free agent signs on to be the left guard on a cheap deal. Doesn’t sound so bad to me.
Verdict: I will never say no to a talented prospect in the fourth round. That is where NFL teams take chances, and this feels like one worth taking.