Coming off a rather disappointing 8-9 season, the New England Patriots have plenty of potential for improvement. They already addressed some areas of need so far this offseason, but will now look to add long-term stability and additional playmaking ability through the NFL Draft. With 11 selections in hand, Bill Belichick and company are in a good position to do just that.
How they will ultimately use those picks remains to be seen. However, there are several players who would fit what they are looking for both at positions of need and at other spots all over the roster.
In our Patriots Draft Targets series, we will be taking a close look at some prospects we believe might be falling into that “fit” category. Today, let’s assess a projected early-round offensive tackle.
Name: Darnell Wright
Position: Offensive tackle
Opening day age: 22
Size: 6’5 1/8”, 333 lbs, 82” wing span, 33 3/4” arm length, 9” hand size
Workout numbers: 5.01s 40-yard dash, 4.72s short shuttle, 29” vertical jump, 114” broad jump, 9.67 Relative Athletic Score
A multi-sport athlete in high school, Wright entered the college level as a five-star recruit and one of the best players in the country. He was pursued by several of the top colleges in the country, including Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Clemson and USC, but eventually decided to join Tennessee as its top recruit in 2019. He went on to spend four seasons in Knoxville, and developed into a reliable starter at both the left and the right tackle position.
All in all, Wright is leaving school with 42 starts among his 47 total in-game appearances. He saved his best for last. Starting all 13 possible games as the Volunteers’ right tackle, he surrendered just eight total quarterback pressures, per Pro Football Focus, and did not give up any sacks — all while going up against some of the best edge rushers in college football. As a result of his stellar play, he was named first-team All-SEC and invited to the Senior Bowl, where he was named Offensive Lineman of the Week.
Expected round: 1st-2nd (Top 50)
Strengths: Standing at 6-foot-5 and 333 pounds, Wright is a big human being and knows how to use his size to his advantage. He forces opposing pass rushers to go around him, because engaging him directly and into his body oftentimes leads to disappointment. Power oozes out of him, and he plays with a mean streak; if he gets his hands on you with his initial punch, it’s usually game over. He uses “snatch-trap” moves to take advantage of power rushers initiating contact against him. He plays a patient but efficient game.
As a run blocker, Wright has a good first step and the short-area agility to make sharp turns when asked to block in space or move off double teams into the second level. He generally is in control when on the move and doesn’t rush his motions. And then, once again, his power to drive defenders back is regularly on display. If he wants you moved, you move. He has shown that he can impose his will on his opposition, and forces players to be technically sharp when attacking him. In addition, he has showcased some good durability.
Question: how would defenses stop a gap/inside zone scheme with Mike Onwenu and Darnell Wright on the same side?— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) March 3, 2023
Answer: they would not. pic.twitter.com/nkBFuOIQWj
Weaknesses: Wright does offer good mass but not necessarily the ideal length at the offensive tackle position. His height (6’5 1/8”) is in the 44-percentile and his arm length (33 3/4”) is in the 33-percentile; his hand size (9”) is only in the 1-percentile for offensive tackles. In order to make up for this, he tends to reach and get sloppy with his balancing. This inconsistency allows defenders to put stress on him through quick motions and leverage.
There are also questions about his projection at the next level. He played the best football of his career on the right side of the line, and teams need to be convinced he can find similar success on the left.
What would be his role in 2023? The Patriots have a track record of taking a patient approach with early-round offensive tackles, and the same might happen with Wright as well. However, he would at the very least get a realistic shot to compete for the starting right tackle position out of the gate: his vast experience against top-notch competition in the SEC is a reason why, as is the fact that New England has no clear starter at the position right now. Wright beating out Riley Reiff, Calvin Anderson, Yodny Cajuste and Andrew Stueber is not an entirely unrealistic projection.
What is his growth potential? If he indeed earns a starting role in 2023, Wright’s growth would not come via a move up the depth chart. Instead, he would become a better player by cleaning up his technique, especially as a pass protector, and improving his communication with his fellow linemen.
Does he have positional versatility? He has indeed. As noted above, Wright started 42 games in college. Of those, 27 came at right tackle, 13 at left tackle, and two at right guard. The Patriots would draft him to line up at tackle, but his size and experience might make him a worthwhile emergency option should Cole Strange or Michael Onwenu become unavailable at some point.
What adding him would mean for the depth chart: Wright would be a lock to make the Patriots’ roster in 2023 based on his projection as a top-50 draft pick. This alone would be bad news for the current depth options on the roster, Yodny Cajuste and Andrew Stueber. Riley Reiff and Calvin Anderson might also be impacted, though: Wright has a shot to start Day 1, meaning that both veterans would be on the team primarily for depth and leadership purposes.
Why the Patriots make sense as a landing spot: Riley Reiff. Calvin Anderson. Yodny Cajuste. Andrew Stueber. Those are the players competing for New England’s starting right tackle spot at the moment, and, frankly, finding upgrades should be high up on the list of priorities. Wright may or may not rise to the top of the depth chart as a rookie, but he would give the team a very promising prospect and some long-term stability the position is currently lacking.
Patriots contact: N/A
Verdict: Wright would make a ton of sense for New England in the late first or early second rounds. He has experience playing at the highest level of college football, fits the size requirements despite a relative lack of length, has a blue-collar attitude, looked very good at the Senior Bowl (where Patriots assistant DeMarcus Covington was among the coaches), and would address a major need. Long story short, he checks plenty of boxes. The 14th overall pick might be a bit early to bring him in, but if the Patriots feel strongly about the fit they would likely not be afraid of handing in the card right then and there.
Would Wright be a good fit for the Patriots? Where do you think he will be drafted? Please head down to the comment section to discuss!