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Patriots draft preview 2023: Offensive linemen potentially on New England’s radar

Offensive tackle in particular projects as one of New England’s biggest needs.

Capital One Orange Bowl - Clemson v Tennessee Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

Following the 2022 season, it was clear one of the New England Patriots biggest offseason needs was at offensive tackle. Now less than two weeks removed from the NFL Draft, that need remains.

The Patriots took to free agent to add solid depth at the position, but New England still has a need at tackle for both 2023 and in the future. While Trent Brown and Riley Reiff project as starting tackles, both players have major question marks (durability, age, etc.) and are free agents after the season.

With the 14th overall selection, the Patriots have a chance to fill the hole at tackle for the next several seasons. If they do not swing big in round one, there are plenty of options for them to add a developmental prospect or bridge player. Double-dipping at the position should also be heavily considered.

The Patriots are more set along the interior after drafting Cole Strange in the first-round of last year’s draft. But, with David Andrews getting older and Michael Onwenu in the final year of his rookie contract, a depth option along the interior could be in play at some point during the draft.

Patriots positional draft preview: Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end

First round

Broderick Jones (Georgia): Starting with Jones, who the Patriots met with at the Combine and held on a top-30 visit. The left tackle on Georgia’s back-to-back national championship teams has a unique blend of athleticism and physicality that flashes when he’s blocking in space. While picking a tackle in the first-round that has only started 19 career games at the collegiate level would be an outlier for Bill Belichick, Jones has serious All-Pro potential.

Paris Johnson Jr. (Ohio State): Johnson Jr. was built in a lab to play left tackle in the NFL, measuring in at 6-foot-6, 313 pounds with 36 1/8 inch arms — becoming just the 19th tackle since 2000 to measure in with arms over 36 inches at the Combine.

After playing right guard for the Buckeyes in 2021, Johnson returned to his natural left tackle spot in 2022. He allowed just two sacks and was penalized only once, but the inexperience could lead to some natural growing pains in the NFL. With that being said, Johnson still has the tools to develop into a high-level starter at left tackle.

Peter Skoronski (Northwestern): One of the biggest question marks at tackle is Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski. He projects as the most pro-ready tackle in this class having started three years in college. He is extremely technically-sound and is an explosive mover. The issue? His arm length, which measured in at 32 1/4-inches. Many teams may view him as a guard because of this which could drop him from a top-10 selection into the 15-20 range.

Top 50

Anton Harrison (Oklahoma): is another experienced left tackle with the adequate size needed to play left tackle in the pros. Harrison has impressive foot speed that flashes in pass protection. In 447 pass snaps last year for the Sooners, Harrison allowed just one sack and nine pressures. He has all the tools to be a long-term NFL starter and could even hear his name called in the back half of round one.

Darnell Wright (Tennessee): Another tackle who could easily end up being a first-round selection is Tennessee’s Darnell Wright. There may not be a prospect that checks more boxes for the Patriots than Wright, who was a four-year starter (at both tackle spots), was SEC battle-tested, and was a Senior Bowl player. He has top-notch power in both the run and passing game and would be a strong fit to New England’s current tackle group.

Dawand Jones (Ohio State): Jones also projects to fall anywhere from the end of round one to the beginning of round two. Jones is a mammoth of a man, measuring in at 6-foot-8, 374 pounds at the Combine. He also recorded an 89 1/2-inch wingspan at the Senior Bowl. His size immediately translates to the game field, but Jones also moves well for his size. Jones will most likely stay on the right side in the pros.

Top 100 Tackles

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 02 Reese’s Senior Bowl Practice Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Blake Freeland (BYU): Freeland has drawn comparisons to former Patriot Nate Solder throughout the pre-draft process. Much of that has to do with his measurements at 6-foot-8, 302 pounds with 33 7/8-inch arms. Freeland was a four-year starter at BYU where he logged 15 starts at right tackle and 27 at left. He has an impressive athletic profile for his size but is still raw as a blocker. His upside makes him worth a strong mid-round prospect, however.

Tyler Steen (Vanderbilt): Nick Saban faced Steen for three years in the SEC. He then went out and added Steen in the transfer portal prior to the 2022 season. That should pique your interest.

After starting 12 games at right tackle during his first season at Vanderbilt, Steen started 34 games at left tackle over his next three years. He is a fluid athlete at 6-foot-6, 321 pounds but with sub-33 inch arms some teams see him more as a guard. If he’s able to pair his footwork ability with more consistent technique, he seems fit to handle either tackle spot.

Jaelyn Duncan (Maryland): Duncan is one of the most athletic tackles in this class, showcasing his explosiveness with a 1.73 10-yard split. Duncan is also super experienced, having logged 39 starts for Maryland over his collegiate career. A down season in ’22 (7 sacks, 17 hurries allowed) has dropped his draft stock, but his upside with the right coaching situation is intriguing.

Wanya Morris (Oklahoma): While Anton Harrison received most of the attention along the offensive line for the Sooners, the man opposite of him is no one to sleep on. After transferring from Tennessee, where he played alongside Darnell Wright, Morris was a one-year starter at right tackle for Oklahoma. If his technique is on point, Morris checks all the boxes to be a starting right tackle in Foxboro due to his exceptional frame and athleticism.

Matthew Bergeron (Syracuse): Bergeron is another Day 2 swing tackle who was a four-year starter at Syracuse. He currently is stronger in the run game due to his quickness and ability to change direction. However, his inconsistent pass blocking and arm length (33 3/4”) may end with a transition to guard.

Nick Saldiveri (Old Dominion): Saldiveri: did not allow a single sack last season in 455 pass-blocking snaps. The Monarchs right tackle is strong in pass protection and impressed athletically at the Combine (9.48 RAS). He could be off the board in the late third, early fourth after an impressive Senior Bowl showing.

Top 100 Interior Linemen

Cody Mauch (North Dakota State): If the Patriots do look to add along their interior on the early side of the draft, Mauch is in their range. Mauch, who New England held on a top-30 visit, is extremely versatile along the offensive line. While he primarily played left tackle throughout his college career, Mauch lined up at left guard, center, and right tackle in the Senior Bowl. He best projects as a NFL guard, but could get early looks at tackle.

Steve Avila (TCU): Beyond Mauch, Avila projects as the next best interior offensive lineman in New England’s range. Bill Belichick and Matt Groh got a first hand look at the guard at TCU’s Pro Day earlier this offseason. Avila was named a Consensus All-American last season after not allowing a sack on 540 pass blocking snaps last season and has versatility along the entire interior.

Day 3 Tackles

Carter Warren (Pittsburgh): Bill Belichick has never drafted a player from Pittsburgh, but perhaps Warren changes that trend. A four-year starter, Warren is physically gifted at 6-foot-5, 311 pounds with 35 3/8-inch arms. A season-ending meniscus in September tear has sidelined him for the pre-draft testing, but he appears to have just a relatively average athletic profile.

Warren McClendon (Georgia): A 37-game starter at right tackle for the Bulldogs, McClendon is already NFL-ready in the run game. He did not allow a sack in either of the last two seasons, making him an intriguing late-round option if the Patriots choose to double-dip at the tackle position. McClendon may also have a future as a starting offensive guard.

Ryan Hayes (Michigan): In the Michigan department, Hayes has been the Wolverines’ starting left tackle for the last two seasons. Last year, he did not allow a single sack in over 350 pass blocking snaps. He is a strong athlete as a former high school tight end, but may struggle with play strength at the next level.

In the Shrine Bowl category, the Patriots worked with Connor Galvin (Baylor) and Dalton Wagner (Arkansas) out in Vegas. Galvin manned the left tackle spot for five seasons at Baylor and is an impressive athlete. His lack of length may push him inside though. Wagner on the other hand is a mauler at 6-foot-8, 320 pounds.

Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu (Oregon): With the addition of Adrian Klemm to New England’s coaching staff, the Patriots will have high-level insight on the former Ducks in this years class. Aumavae-Laulu, who also was at the Shrine Bowl, started the last two seasons at right tackle for Klemm at Oregon. He has the physical abilities teams look for at right tackle and flashed some explosiveness with a 1.73 10-yard split.

Day 3 Interior Linemen

Speaking of Klemm, both T.J. Bass (Oregon) and Alex Forsyth (Oregon) will be late Day 3 options. Bass was primarily a left tackle under Klemm, but will likely be a guard in the NFL (13 starts at LG in college). He could be a strong depth piece in New England’s gap scheme. Forsyth on the other hand played center for the Ducks but has the size to kick to guard as well. Emil Ekiyor (Alabama) also falls in the familiarity tree.

Andrew Vorhees (USC): An intriguing late-round option along the interior is USC’s Andrew Vorhees. A once projected top-100 pick, Vorhees’ battles with injuries continued as he tore his ACL during on-field workouts at the Combine. The sixth-year senior now likely won’t play in the NFL until he’s 25 years old, but could be considered a value pick late in the draft.

McClendon Curtis (Chattanooga): After starting at right guard, Curtis moved over the left side for seven games in 2022 after New England took Cole Strange from Chattanooga. While he is not pro-ready like Strange, Curtis has elite length (83 7/8 inch wingspan) which helped him in pass protection last season (zero sacks allowed). He has potential starting ability down the road in New England’s offense.

Jaxon Kirkland (Washington): Kirkland could be one of the earlier Day 3 choices along the interior. He was once projected to be a top-50 pick at left tackle but returned to school following an injury and was then moved to guard. Kirkland will likely stay at guard in the pros, but has the size (6-foot-7, 321 pounds, 33 1/2-inch arms) to help at tackle. New England got to work with him at the Shrine Bowl.

Anthony Bradford (LSU): New England also met with Bradford at the Combine. At 6-foot-4, 332 pounds, Bradford was used at left tackle, left guard and right guard throughout his time in Baton Rouge.

Lastly, a pair of Bruins guards could have New England’s attention. They got a first hand look at Jon Gaines (UCLA) during the Shrine Bowl, while Antoni Mafi (UCLA) offers possibly appealing power in the run game.