Prototypical Patriots: Best offensive tackle fits in 2022 NFL Draft class

After making a handful of moves in the last couple of weeks, the Patriots are in an interesting spot when it comes to looking at their “needs” in the draft. They aren’t quite as glaring as they once were.

Could the Patriots still use a receiver after adding DeVante Parker? Definitely. Could they afford to add talent at corner after re-signing Malcolm Butler? Of course. Would a linebacker make sense for them after trading for Mack Wilson and adding a strong safety in Jabrill Peppers? Sure.

But Bill Belichick is no longer in a position where he has to force a player at any of those spots come the end of the month. If his team had to play a game tomorrow, they’d be staffed at those positions.

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What are the most significant “needs” in Foxboro, then? 

Guard would be one place to start, since there is no obvious second starter to pair with Michael Onwenu (We got into guards who’d fit in New England last week). How about offensive tackle? 

With Isaiah Wynn headed into a contract year, finding a player who can play left tackle would make sense — particularly in this year’s draft class where tackle is among the deepest positions. Plus, Trent Brown has consistently dealt with injuries over the last two years, and so having some insurance should he miss time would be wise. 

 

Additionally, upgrading over the current crop of backups could help prevent a situation like the one Mac Jones faced last year when he was on a record pace for quarterback hits.

So if this year’s draft is the place for the Patriots to find their next young tackle, what will they be looking for? 

Going through their choices at that position over the last decade, it’s clear they want athletes. Vertical jumps sniffing 30 inches, broad jumps up over 100 inches and short-shuttle times under 5.0 seconds are preferred. Clock a 40 time in the 5.15-second range (helped by a good 10-yard split) and a three-cone around 7.5-seconds, and you’ve got a shot.

Size appeared to matter once upon a time, and then Belichick drafted Wynn. But even Wynn (6-foot-3, 313) had long enough arms (33.5 inches) to handle the job in New England’s view.

Let’s dig into the options …

Charles Cross, Mississippi State — 6-foot-5, 307 pounds

The Patriots won’t have a shot at drafting Alabama’s Evan Neal or North Carolina State’s Ickey Ekwonu. Those guys could end up hearing their names called inside the top-five picks. Cross, in all likelihood, will also be off the board long before the Patriots select. But on the off chance he slips? If the league views him as NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah does (the No. 23 player in the class)? Could be a steal for the Patriots. 

Cross is a large man with long arms (34.5 inches) with elite athleticism (4.95-second 40, 4.61-second shuttle, 9-4 broad jump). That’s what New England is looking for. He has boatloads of pass-protection experience playing under Air Raid guru Mike Leach, which could help make him ready to go in the pinch if the Patriots needed him.

He has plenty to clean up, and his run-game skills need polish. But he has the right blend of size, power and movement skills that should make him a consideration for Bill Belichick should he slip down the board.

Charles Cross

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Cross has plenty of pass-protection experience playing for Air Raid guru Mike Leach at Mississippi State.

Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa — 6-foot-7, 325 pounds

“Mean.” That’s the word that first comes to mind when dissecting Penning’s play. He looks like he wants to hurt people when he’s on the field. Even at the Senior Bowl, where he was named the top offensive lineman for the National team by opposing defenders. 

“Freak” is the other word that comes to mind with Penning. He ran a ridiculous 4.89-second 40-yard dash to go along with a 7.25-second three-cone drill at this year’s NFL Combine. Like Northern Iowa’s Spencer Brown, who was drafted in the third round last year by the Bills and ended up starting in Buffalo, Penning is a rare mover. He also has enough size (34-inch arms) to be molded into a rough-and-tumble starter quickly.

 

Penning’s demeanor, athleticism and length are plenty for the Patriots to work with, and he may be there for them at No. 21 overall if they’re interested.

Bernhard Raimann, Central Michigan — 6-foot-6, 303 pounds

Raimann could be Bill Belichick’s new Sebastian Vollmer, only an Austrian version. Still relatively new to the game, Raimann began his playing career as a 240-pound tight end. Now he looks the part of a blindside protector, and he’s widely considered one of the best tackles in the class.

His explosiveness is almost off the charts with a 9-9 broad jump (98th percentile), a 4.49 short shuttle (92nd) and a 5.05-second 40 (81st). He also posted 30 reps of 225 pounds on the bench (89th percentile).

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Though he had his ups and downs at this year’s Senior Bowl, the Patriots won’t have to worry about Raimann’s work ethic. He graduated from Central Michigan with a 3.8 GPA, with an actuarial science and statistics double major and a mathematics minor. He entered into an accelerated program for a master’s degree in applied statistics and analytics, according to the Associated Press.

He’s already a mauling run-blocker, which the Patriots will like on the right side. And with some coaching, he’s athletic enough to find his way as a high-end pass-protector. Quickly.

Tyler Smith, Tulsa — 6-foot-5, 324 pounds

Smith isn’t the most athletic player to land on this list, but there aren’t many humans his size (he also has 34-inch arms and almost 11-inch hands) who have the kind of athleticism Smith does. His 40 time (5.02 seconds) and 10-yard split (1.71 seconds) both rank in the 90th percentile of offensive linemen at the combine over the last couple of decades.

Plus, Smith would fit right into the Patriots offense. Want to get downhill in the running game, as New England does? So does Smith, who seems to enjoy the violence that comes along with driving opponents down the field in the running game.

Some project a move to guard would be beneficial for him, but with his physical gifts he has the potential to be an impact player at tackle.

Chris Paul, Tulsa — 6-foot-4, 323 pounds

Smart… Tough… Athletic enough. That’s what Dante Scarnecchia always wanted in his offensive linemen. That’s what it looks like Paul, Smith’s teammate, is.

He clocked a blazing 4.89-second 40 at this year’s combine, though prior to his time in Indy he was thought to be a borderline NFL athlete. His shuttle times weren’t eye-popping, but his broad jump (9-foot-1) ranked him in the 83rd percentile and is indicative of real lower-body twitch.

Paul will bring high-end work ethic and character to his next locker room, evaluators say. He started games at both guard spots and right tackle during his career, and a move to guard may be in the offing for him. But he has enough length and seems to have enough explosiveness in his frame to warrant a spot on this list.

 

He graduated with a bachelor’s in computer information systems last year and has begun working on his MBA. He’s also been part of the NCAA’s Division I Football Oversight Committee as a SAAC representative and he was member of the NCAA’s Board of Governors Committee to Promote Cultural Diversity and Equity.

Daniel Faalele, Minnesota — 6-foot-8, 384 pounds

We have an outlier. Faalele isn’t going to be what the Patriots are looking for in terms of athleticism. But… uh… he’s a planet. Belichick and his staff clearly value size when it makes sense, and perhaps Faalele is so big that he would limit what they can do because of his relative lack of movement skills.

Still, he’s worth including here because he’s only played four seasons of competitive football and his game is still very raw. But with some coaching? With less on-the-field thinking as he gets more comfortable in his assignments? He has some traits that would be valuable in a run game like New England’s that wants to get downhill quickly.

He’s not the athlete Trent Brown is, but he’s currently about 30 pounds heavier, and he might be the kind of player they’d roll the dice on — particularly if the league is down on him since he won’t fit the wide-zone schemes currently permeating the NFL.

Daniel Faalele

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At 6-foot-8, 384 pounds, Daniel Faalele is heavier than every active NFL player.

Kellen Diesch, Arizona State — 6-foot-7, 301 pounds

Diesch is an interesting follow to Faalele in that he also has enough height to play power forward, but he’s a far different player. He’s light on his feet and a very good athlete who clocked a very impressive short shuttle (4.43 seconds) and an eye-opening 40 (4.89 seconds).

The Patriots have taken a light-but-athletic tackle before — they scooped up Antonio Garcia in the third round in 2017 — but Diesch tested as a significantly better athlete.

Diesch’s arms will be concerning for some teams (32 inches), and he’s not the kind of power player who will thrive in a scheme like New England’s. Nor will he wow opposing power rushers with the pop in his hands. But he’s so smooth in pass protection — he allowed just eight pressures on 413 pass-blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus — he might be worth a late-round flier for a team who thinks he can get stronger at the next level.

He’s a sixth-year senior who has spent plenty of time in big-time programs (transferred from Texas A&M) so getting him to improve his power isn’t exactly a given.

Matt Waletzko, North Dakota State — 6-foot-8, 312 pounds

Waletzko has the kind of reach that offensive line coaches dream about (36-inch arms), and the burst to go with it. His 5.03-second 40 time, 1.70 estimated 10-yard split and 9-foot-5 broad jump make him one of the best athletes at his position in this year’s class. Plus, his 28 reps of 225 pounds on the bench were extremely impressive given his arm length.

 

He’s coming from a smaller program so he’s a difficult projection. And his long limbs make him seem like a bit of a lumbering mover at times. But there’s clearly plenty of athleticism there. It’s just a question of whether or not it will translate to an NFL field.

Regardless, for our purposes here, he checks a number of boxes and belongs on this list. Not saying they’re close to the same player, but Waletzko’s height and testing numbers are a little reminiscent of a first-round pick of Belichick’s from a few years back.

Nick Zakelj, Fordham — 6-foot-6, 316 pounds

A four-year starter on the offensive line, a captain, a staple on the Patriot League Academic Honor Roll while majoring in finance, Zakelj is an intriguing prospect despite coming from an FCS program. He went to the Senior Bowl and played both guard and tackle, and if the Patriots liked what they saw there, then the small-school label won’t matter as much to them. 

Zakelj ended up in Mobile, Ala., in the first place thanks in part to a very strong showing against Nebraska last season. He has the chops to hang with the big boys. He has enough size to play on the edge, and he’s an NFL-caliber athlete with a 5.13-second 40 time, a 28.5-inch vertical and a broad jump over nine feet.

Does he have the flexibility to succeed as a long-term tackle? NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein says Zakelj is a “very average knee-bender.” But he has enough going for him to land him on this list. 

Abraham Lucas, Washington State — 6-foot-6, 315 pounds

Would the Patriots ever pluck a linemen from an Air Raid system? When they are going to need offensive linemen who understand how to get downhill in the running game? Maybe, if it’s the right kind of athlete. And Lucas is an athlete.

He clocked a 4.92-second 40 (94th percentile), and blazing three-cone time (7.25 97th percentile). His spider chart on Mockdraftable.com is most similar to a litany of top-10 picks from years past, including Eric Fisher, Jake Matthews, Jack Conklin and Matt Kalil. 

Lucas won’t go in the first round, but with some work behind the scenes at the pro level maybe he develops into a starting-caliber NFL tackle. He allowed just 49 total pressures on 2,195 career pass-blocking snaps, per PFF. His running-game experience is certainly lacking, but he has traits that don’t come along very often. 

Braxton Jones, Southern Utah — 6-foot-5, 310 pounds

There are NFL-caliber athletes all over the country if you’re willing to look hard enough. That’s Jones, who’s looking to join Miles Killebrew (fourth round, 2016) and LeShaun Sims (fifth round, 2016) as recent Thunderbirds draft picks.

 

His 4.97-second 40 time put him in the 93rd percentile among offensive linemen, and his broad jump of 9 feet slotted him in the 79th percentile. When you factor in his 35-inch arms, there’s something to work with there. His top athletic comps are impressive: Ekwonu, Cross, Cam Robinson and D’Brickashaw Ferguson.

Jones was a first-team All-Big Sky honoree as well as a FCS first-team All-American. His game won’t translate quite as smoothly as that of his favorite player, Cowboys tackle Tyron Smith, but he held his own against some of the top edge defenders in the country down at the Senior Bowl.

His athletic juice and length should be enough for a team to take a shot on him as a potential swing tackle moving forward.

Braxton Jones

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Braxton Jones’ 4.97-second 40 time ranked in the 93rd percentile among o-linemen at the combine.

Austin Deculus, LSU — 6-foot-5, 321 pounds

Deculus is yet another traitsy tackle prospect, checking in with a 5.08-second 40 time (83rd percentile) and a 9-1 broad jump (83rd). But he also has loads of experience — he appeared in an LSU-record 61 games up front — in the best conference in the country, and he was a starter on the line that won the Joe Moore Award as the best group in the country back in 2019.

Deculus has very small hands for someone at his position (9.25 inches), but his arms are long enough to play in New England (34 inches). He’ll have to prove he has the fluidity to perform at the next level, but his on-field experience in the SEC and his straight-line burst could help him stick on a roster for a team needing tackle depth.

Ryan Van Demark, UConn — 6-foot-6, 307 pounds

If he’s drafted, Van Demark won’t go anywhere near as highly as his defensive tackle teammate Travis Jones. But he has enough going for him physically that it wouldn’t be a shock to hear his name called on Day 3. He started four years for the Huskies, with three years coming at left tackle.

A captain last season with 45 starts under his belt and what’s thought to be an NFL-caliber football IQ, Van Demark has some off-the-field traits that would be coveted by NFL clubs. He also looks like a pro tackle from a traits perspective, with a very impressive 9-4 broad jump and shuttle times that are indicative of real pass-protection ability (7.5-second three-cone drill, 4.5-second shuttle).

The Patriots took Garcia as a light-weight tackle with NFL upside, and perhaps they’d view Demark in a similar light.

Tanner Owen, Northwest Missouri — 6-foot-4, 307 pounds

You don’t typically find athletes like Owen at the Division II level. He is at tackle what Jason Poe (Mercer) is at guard in this year’s draft class. He’s undersized in terms of his height, but his arms measured plenty long (34 inches) at Missouri’s pro day, and he posted some impressive athletic testing numbers. His 40-yard dash was clocked at 5.00 seconds, while his shuttle time (4.52 seconds), broad jump (9-5) and vertical (34 inches) were all elite.

 

Isaiah Wynn didn’t do athletic testing prior to the 2018 draft, but if you compare Owen to another highly-drafted Patriots tackle who measured under 6-foot-5, he stacks up very favorably from an athletic profile perspective. 

Owen transferred from Missouri, so he was considered an SEC-caliber mover coming out of high school, and now that he’s tested you can see why. He’ll always have competition-level concerns as he tries to transition to the next level. But as a late Day 3 choice or a priority free agent, he has the kind of physical traits that deserve a shot somewhere on the offensive line at the next level.

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