If they can stay healthy, Patriots offensive line should be among NFL’s best

The New England Patriots offense has a lot of question marks attached to it in 2020, but offensive line shouldn’t be one of them if everyone stays healthy.

Understandably, there’s quite a bit to be concerned about with the New England Patriots in 2020.

Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback of all time and the face of the franchise for the past two decades, now plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His replacement is Jarrett Stidham, who has attempted all of four passes in the NFL regular season — one of which was a pick-six.

Despite boasting one of the deepest stables of talent in an NFL running back room, the Patriots as a team ranked just 18th in the league in rushing last year.

And of course, the overall lack of talent and production at the wide receiver and tight end position groups in 2019 was extremely well-documented.

New England as a franchise has done little to address both areas of weakness outside of spending a couple mid-round draft picks at TE and adding a few undrafted rookie wideouts and unspectacular veteran WRs (Damiere Byrd and Marqise Lee) to the roster.

Another notable soft spot for the Pats last season was the offensive line. In fact, many blamed some of New England’s rushing struggles on a below-average overall performance by the O-line.

Truthfully, that’s only a part of the equation.

James Develin and Jakob Johnson’s injuries cost the team their two starting fullbacks, a devastating blow for a team that loves to employ fullbacks as lead-blockers on designed run plays.

Losing a blocker like Rob Gronkowski to “retirement” certainly hurt as well, as none of the Patriots TEs last year (Benjamin Watson, Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo) were particularly useful in the run-blocking game.

While the New England offensive line certainly underachieved in 2019 by their own usually lofty standards, they also weren’t nearly as bad as everyone thought they were.

ProFootballFocus’ Ben Linsey came out with the website’s end-of-season rankings of all 32 offensive lines in the NFL heading into the 2019/2020 playoffs. In his article, he had the Patriots listed 10th overall — and among AFC teams, only the Ravens, Colts, Titans, and Steelers were ranked higher.

That’s actually a fairly impressive accomplishment for this team given all the injuries and shuffling they had to do all season long along the line.

Center David Andrews missed the season with blood clots in his lung. Right tackle Marcus Cannon had a nasty bout with the flu for several weeks during the regular season (he was Patient Zero when the Pats flew two planes during the season because of mass illness on their roster). Left tackle Isaiah Wynn once again missed a chunk of the season due to injury (he missed his entire rookie year as well). Right guard Shaq Mason missed a game due to injury.

Of the Patriots’ five presumptive starters at the beginning of the 2019 season — the same five guys who will presumably start in 2020 — only left guard Joe Thuney managed to make it through the entire season unscathed.

Of course, Thuney’s also a freak of nature who hasn’t missed a game in four seasons straight since being drafted by New England. It’s the major reason he received the franchise tag this spring.

Here were the overall grades ProFootballFocus gave to all five Patriots offensive line in 2019 (or 2018 for Andrews, his last season played with the team):

  • LT Isaiah Wynn – 69.9
  • LG Joe Thuney – 77.4
  • C David Andrews – 72.0
  • RG Shaq Mason – 73.0
  • RT Marcus Cannon – 68.0

Those are impressive marks across the board. Last season, only Cannon gave up more than two sacks, and only Mason committed more than three penalties. Thuney impressively gave up just one sack and committed zero penalties.

The problem for the Patriots in 2019 is that this group never had a chance to all take the field together.

Instead, New England was forced to rely on the likes of Ted Karras, Jermaine Eluemunor, and Marshall Newhouse. Newhouse, in particular, graded out poorly at left tackle, scoring an overall mark of 62.6 on the year after committing three penalties and giving up six sacks from Brady’s blind side.

The Patriots added a significant amount of depth along their O-line in recent offseasons. Yodny Cajuste, Hjalte Froholdt, Najee Toran, Korey Cunningham, Justin Herron, and Dustin Woodard have all been picked up either this year or last through the draft, trade, or free agency.

Some of those players are more exciting than others, but hopefully — with any luck, at least — the Patriots won’t need to see any meaningful contributions from any of them in 2020.

If New England can keep the starting fivesome of Wynn, Thuney, Andrews, Mason, and Cannon on the field for 16+ games, the Patriots should have one of the best offensive line units in the entire NFL — even despite the fact they lost legendary coach Dante Scarnecchia to retirement.