Owning the 21st overall selection in this year’s draft, the New England Patriots have multiple ways to go. While a trade up or, more likely, down the board always seems like a realistic option for the club, it also could stay put and select a player to address one of its needs.
The Patriots have several of those, ranging from skill positions such as cornerback and wide receiver, to the trenches: the team needs to find a starting guard after losing both Shaq Mason and Ted Karras last month, and also has to bolster a defensive line that struggled mightily versus the run at times last season.
If New England opts to go that second route and select a lineman on either side of the ball, Bill Belichick and company will need a prospect to check multiple boxes before they hand the card in — at least according to former Patriots executive Scott Pioli.
“Generally speaking, when the Patriots go with a big guy one of the things we did when I was out there was we made sure they were not only big and talented, but they had to be clean,” Pioli said during a recent appearance on NFL Network.
Pioli spent nine season in New England under Belichick, most prominently serving as vice president of player personnel between 2002 and 2008. During his time with the club, it selected multiple difference-makers early in the draft.
Hall of Fame defensive lineman Richard Seymour was drafted in the first round in 2001, followed by defenders Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork in 2003 and 2004, respectively. In 2005, guard Logan Mankins was added 32nd overall. All four of them were cornerstones of the Patriots’ roster for multiple years — as were later-round selections such as offensive linemen Matt Light, Dan Koppen and Nick Kaczur.
“Every single one of those guys was not only big, physical and tough, but they were extremely, extremely dependable,” Pioli said about the Patriots’ first-round haul in the early 2000s. “So, when they are looking at a big guy in the first round, if that’s what they’re going to do, that is going to be not only the physical tools that they’re looking for, but from a trait standpoint, from a human standpoint, those are the kind of players that they would go after.
“I know that was a lot of years ago — that’s the way we did it a long time ago — but I know that there’s a true, tried-and-trusted way of drafting the big guys.”
Since Pioli’s departure in 2009, the Patriots have drafted four other linemen in the first round. Nate Solder (2011) became a long-time starter at left tackle; Chandler Jones (2012) developed into a Pro Bowl defensive end before getting traded to Arizona; Dominique Easley (2014) played just 22 games and goes down as one of the biggest busts of the Belichick era; Isaiah Wynn (2018) followed Solder’s footsteps as the team’s starting left tackle.
Solder, Jones and Wynn — despite the latter’s injury history at the NFL level — all fall under the categories outlined by Pioli. Easley, meanwhile, remains a head-scratcher eight years after hearing his name called 29th overall, especially considering some reports that emerged afterwards.
This year, the Patriots might go lineman again in the first round. Players such as Georgia defenders Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt are names to watch, as is a trio of interior O-linemen: Kenyon Green (Texas A&M), Tyler Linderbaum (Iowa), Zion Johnson (Boston College).
On the surface, all of them are “big, physical and tough” and were quite dependable for their respective teams in college. Based on those facts and the Patriots’ needs on either side of the ball, it would not be a surprise if pick No. 21 will indeed be invested in a lineman.