The New England Patriots offensive line will look quite a bit different in 2018. With longtime left tackle Nate Solder now a member of the New York Giants, conventional wisdom would suggest that the New England Patriots offensive line would be a top worry entering the 2018 season.
In this case, conventional wisdom would be wrong. Thanks to masterful team building by Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots offensive line is in its best shape in years. From a star-studded starting lineup to some enviable depth, the offensive line should be a team strength.
New England Patriots Offensive Line In Phenomenal Shape
The Starting Tackles
The starting tackle duo of Trent Brown and Marcus Cannon has the potential to be one of the top ten groupings in the league. While both players are historically right tackles, Cannon will likely keep his natural position while Brown will shift to the left. This is what the Patriots did in minicamp, and it’s not likely to change.
After struggling early in his career, Marcus Cannon has been one of the best right tackles in the league over the past two seasons. In 2016, Cannon started all 16 games for the first time in his career, allowing just two sacks all season and earning Second-Team All-Pro.
While he wasn’t quite as good in 2017, he was still a solid starter. Injuries limited Cannon to just eight games, but he was still a strong run blocker and managed to keep quarterback Tom Brady upright. As long as he’s in the lineup, the Patriots have no reason to worry about the right tackle position.
Trent Brown is a more of a question mark, as the former San Francisco 49 doesn’t have much experience at left tackle. However, the primary reason for that is due to the 49ers having one of the best blindside protectors in Joe Staley. This shouldn’t be taken as a strike against Brown, as nobody would overtake Staley at left tackle. If Brown’s blindside play is anything like his performance at right tackle, he could end up being an upgrade on Solder.
At 6’-8”, Brown is an absolute monster capable of eating up any and all opposing pass rushers. He was one of the best pass blocking right tackles in the league and left an impression on just about everyone. Denver Broncos pass rusher Von Miller called Brown “the best right tackle in the NFL”, while former head coach Kyle Shanahan called Brown “the best pass protection tackle I’ve ever seen in my life.”
The Starting Interior Line
Much like the offensive tackle situation, the Patriots interior line has a chance to be a top-ten grouping. However, the interior line has less uncertainty surrounding it than the tackle position. From left to right, the starting trio is likely to be Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, and Shaq Mason.
Ever since entering the league as a fourth-round pick in 2015, Mason has been one of the best guards in the league. Mason is an elite run blocker and an above average pass protector, finishing 2017 as the ninth-best guard in the league, per Pro Football Focus. He’s capable of making some truly amazing plays and is probably the best lineman on the Patriots.
After being a league-average center for the first two years of his career, David Andrews took his game to another level in 2017. The former undrafted free agent was always a good pass blocker, but his undersized frame limited him in the run game.
However, he overcame his smaller build to become one of the best centers in the league. He continued to improve as a pass blocker while drastically improving his work in the run game. Pro Football Focus had Andrews ranked as the fifth-best center in the league, and his film backs that up. While he could regress from this borderline elite form, he should still be a capable starter at the very least.
Wynn is the most uncertain of the three, as he’s only a rookie. However, based on his college tape, he should fit right in on the starting offensive line. The first rounder has the strength, speed, and overall makeup of a franchise guard, and could easily play tackle if called upon. The only strike against him is his 6′-2″ height, but that shouldn’t be an issue at the guard position. His arms are disproportionately long, so even at tackle, his height shouldn’t be much of an issue.
While the starting lineup is set, it’s foolish to expect all five players to play all 16 games. Players are going to get hurt, and backups will need to start in their place. Fortunately for the Patriots, they have strong depth all along the offensive line.
Currently, Joe Thuney is in line to be the top backup. The third-year guard spent the past two seasons as the Patriots primary left guard. While he didn’t light the world on fire, he was still a solid starter. Should injuries strike along the interior line, Thuney could fill in with only a minimal drop off in production.
Additionally, Thuney’s presence combined with the versatility of Isaiah Wynn gives the Patriots a plan should something happen to the starting tackles. While Wynn is undersized relative to a typical NFL tackle, the coaching staff clearly believes in him. He was introduced as a tackle, and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia said: “we’re going to give specifically Isaiah a chance to play left tackle.” Clearly, the Patriots are confident in Wynn’s ability to play tackle should the situation call for it. With Wynn sliding over to tackle, Thuney would take the left guard position, and the offensive line would still have five competent starters protecting Tom Brady.
Even if absolute chaos hits the offensive line, the Patriots have serviceable players rounding out the depth chart. Tackle LaAdrian Waddle has played in 15 games in his Patriots tenure, starting four. While he’s certainly not an ideal starter, he managed to do his job well enough in 2017.
Similarly, New England also has interior offensive lineman Ted Karras should an emergency strike. Karras has played in 32 games over the past two seasons, starting three. Like Waddle, the only time he’d see the field is if something went drastically wrong. However, he’s shown the ability to stand in and serve as an adequate starter for short stretches.
Last Word on the Patriots Offensive Line
Normally, losing a franchise left tackle means that the offensive line is set to get worse. However, thanks to some masterful team building, the 2018 offensive line should be even better than 2017.
The right side of the offensive line doesn’t have a weak link, and the left side has similar potential. While there’s still some question as to whether Brown can play left tackle and Wynn can play left guard, all early signs point to both players working out.
If and when injury strikes, the Patriots have plenty of depth to weather the injury storm. Joe Thuney is a solid starter and is more than capable of filling in along the line. Even if multiple serious injuries occur, LaAdrian Waddle and Ted Karras have been serviceable stopgaps in the past. They should continue to be serviceable throughout the season.
Is this the best offensive line in the league? Not by a long shot. This unit isn’t nearly as talented as the Dallas Cowboys or Tennessee Titans lines. However, this grouping could be a top-10 unit, which is a luxury that Patriots haven’t had in recent years. The last time they had a line this good was probably 2012 when Brady was sacked just 27 times. With Brady entering his age-41 season, the offensive line needs to minimize hits on the franchise quarterback. Entering training camp, it looks like the line will be more than capable of doing just that.
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