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‘You can’t have enough good offensive linemen,’ says Matt Groh about Patriots’ draft investments

New England made three picks targeting its interior O-line.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 04 LSU at UCLA Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New England Patriots entered the 2023 NFL Draft with several needs on the offensive side of the ball. The interior O-line, however, was not necessarily among them: the three starters were set in stone, while the backup personnel included a mix of experience and developmental youth.

And yet, when the book was closed on the draft, the Patriots had added three players to this position group alone. Center Jake Andrews and guard Sidy Sow were drafted in the fourth round, with guard Atonio Mafi joining them in the fifth.

Why did New England bring those three aboard? The way the board fell played a part in the results, but there are additional reasons to explain the team’s picks up front:

1.) Depth for 2023.

2.) Positional flexibility.

3.) Future considerations.

Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh directly touched on the first of these reasons during a post-draft conference call with the media.

“One thing you look at, a lot of got teams that we’ve had around here, and certainly if you look at those two teams who are playing on the final weekend this year, you can’t have enough good offensive linemen,” he said. “It’s just something that you can never have enough of and if you don’t have enough, it’s going to be really hard on you.”

Indeed, depth along the O-line had been an issue for the team going back to last year. And while the questions at tackle were at least somewhat answered through free agency, the interior remained an issue.

Heading into the draft, the team had James Ferentz as its No. 4 behind starters Cole Strange, David Andrews and Michael Onwenu. In addition, youngsters Kody Russey, Bill Murray and Chasen Hines rounded out the group. While the latter trio might have had some upside, it became obvious on Day 3 of the draft that gambling on their development and a soon-to-be 34-year-old Ferentz was not the way to move forward.

Hence the additions of Andrews, Sow and Mafi. Ideally, they improve the depth behind the starting trio this season — all while offering some flexibility, as Groh pointed out.

“Jake having played guard and center; Atonio, really being more of a guard, and then stretching out to Sidy playing guard and tackle in his career,” he said “Three good guys to bring a real hard-nosed attitude here to the offensive line.”

Indeed, the Patriots were able to increase not just the overall number of players in the room but the flexibility as well. Based on their draft statuses, Andrews and Sow are locks to make the team; the former will back up all three interior spots, and the latter possibly factor into the offensive tackle mix as well.

Mafi, a converted defensive lineman, is a pure guard and not guaranteed a spot on the team; that said, just like the other two, he might also be a long-term investment.

The future of the Patriots’ offensive line, after all, is one of uncertainty. Of the projected starting five — the aforementioned Cole Strange, David Andrews and Michael Onwenu, plus tackles Trent Brown and Riley Reiff — only Strange and Andrews are under contract beyond 2023; and with Andrews entering his age-31 season, his future also is TBD.

Jake Andrews being groomed to take over as the next starting center at one point makes sense. The same is true with Sow and Mafi potentially filling vacancies at right tackle and right guard, respectively, even if only at the backup level.

Time will tell whether or not they can indeed provide some long-term stability. At the very least, adding them to the mix gives the team some options moving forward.