New England Patriots: Five NFL Draft Needs
By Hal Bent
Position: Offensive Tackle
Expected Round to Target Position: Third/Trade up from Sixth Round
Top Prospects Likely on the Draft Board at that Pick (Third Round): Shon Coleman (Auburn), Le’Raven Clark (Texas Tech), Dominique Robertson (West Georgia), Jerald Hawkins (LSU)
Potential Contributors Currently at Position: Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, LaAdrian Waddle, Cameron Fleming
Team Needs Overview: Prior to trading for Jonathan Cooper it seemed guard was the priority for the Patriots among the offensive line. Instead, as last year showed when they went five-deep at left tackle, the need for depth at tackle never ends. What contributed to their loss against Denver more than anything was the inability of a less than 100% Vollmer playing out of position at left tackle and Cannon (playing with a broken toe) at right tackle to slow the pass rush of Denver’s defensive ends.
A return to health will help the Patriots tackles more than anything. Solder missed more than half the season with a torn biceps injury in week five, Waddle was shut down with a shoulder injury after playing just one game, and Vollmer had a concussion and leg/ankle injuries that stripped him of mobility and strength in the playoffs. Just having their top four tackles healthy makes the unit so much stronger.
The weakest link was fifth tackle Cameron Fleming who was a fourth round draft pick in 2014. Fleming showed promise as a run blocker as a rookie as a blocking tackle eligible/tight end as a rookie but when pressed into service he has struggled mightily. Fleming simply lacks the foot speed to drop back and slow edge rushers in pass protection. Fleming was cut, passed through waivers, and was on the practice squad before injuries forced him into action.
Top offensive tackles Laremy Tunsil, Jack Conklin, Ronnie Stanley, Taylor Decker, Germain Ifedi and Jason Spriggs are expected to be first day/early second day selections and off the board long before New England picks at the end of the second round. Tackles such as raw small school prospect Dominique Robertson could be a development project for offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia to mold for 2017. Shon Coleman dropping to them at number 60 (not likely but possible) would be someone I could see them drafting in the second round as he could be starting by the end of the season.