The New England Patriots have one of the elite offensive lines in the NFL with an excellent duo of tackles, a perennial high achiever at left guard in veteran Logan Mankins, and one of the best up-and-coming centers and run blockers in the NFL in the tireless Ryan Wendell. Although the San Francisco 49ers were the class of the NFL’s offensive lines last season due to their insane run blocking, the Patriots were a close second and are clearly superior in pass protection. Evan Silva of Rotoworld released his excellent, yearly offensive line rankings that project the best offensive lines heading into next year, and he gave the Patriots the edge at the top over the San Francisco 49ers. I would highly recommend reading through the whole piece, because Silva knows his stuff cold and once again delivered some great analysis that gives us insight into other offensive lines and their own studs/duds.
Although the Patriots lost a key backup in Donald Thomas (he’ll be a good starter for the Indianapolis Colts) in free agency, the Patriots actually look better on the offensive line. They were able to keep arguably the best right tackle in the game in Sebastian Vollmer, and left tackle Nate Solder will continue to develop. I expect the hyper-athletic LT to entrench himself as one of the game’s elite tackles next season, and he showed plenty last season. No longer a liability in pass protection, Solder is solid in that regard and continues to make strides. You won’t find many left tackles who are better run blockers than Solder, and his athleticism is crucial in the Patriots zone blocking scheme. His ability to screen block is also a huge plus, and it’s going to be a big boon for third-year back Shane Vereen going into his pending breakout season in 2013.
Mankins is no longer one of the top 100 players in the NFL (I absolutely hate that list and put more weight in the Pro Football Focus’s rankings, the rankings done by Pete Prisco are also better), but that’s not to say Mankins isn’t still really good. (And yes, I thought Vollmer should have been his replacement on the list.) Anyway, Mankins is a beast and a leader, and he’ll be healthy in 2013 which means he could very well put himself in the top 100 again.
It’s going to be interesting to see what happens at right guard, but I still expect Dan Connolly to keep his starting job. He’s at least an average starter and is versatile, but Marcus Cannon is an up-and-comer and somebody the organization is high on. He was a steal in the draft and continues to develop under Dante Scarnecchia, so he’s somebody to keep an eye on. At the very least, he will be a key and versatile backup at both guard and right tackle (in case Vollmer goes down again). The Patriots should use Cannon at guard more often, because I feel like he has the skill-set to be a very effective guard. Now if Donald Thomas were still on the team, that right guard gig would be captured by him.
I don’t think I need to get into how good Vollmer and Wendell are, because Vollmer is an elite RT and Wendell is arguably one of the top five centers in the NFL. The Patriots have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, and I agree with Silva that they are at the top. The addition of Will Svitek to fortify depth at tackle also helps out, and I like the versatility (Nick McDonald is in there as well) and potential development of undrafted free agents on the practice squad (Elvis Fisher and Matt Stankiewitch stand out from this seat). The Patriots offensive line is a beast to reckon with, and they are at least the second-best line in the NFL.
The star of this group? Coach Scar.
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