NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
New England’s offensive line unit played well last season, but the Patriots may nonetheless believe there is some room for improvement; potential areas of upgrade could be the starting right guard position (currently occupied by Dan Connolly) as well as the reserve unit. Today, we’ll look at one prospect the Patriots may target in each round of the 2013 NFL Draft, with prospect rankings and values provided by FRX.
1. OT/OG Justin Pugh, Syracuse* (FRX: #55 overall prospect, $680)
Pugh has received some criticism for his arm length in the pre-draft process, fueling speculation that he will be shifted inside to offensive guard at the next level. However, at 6’5”, 307 pounds, he was a decorated three-year starter with the Orange at left tackle, all qualities that should appeal to New England. The Patriots previously drafted Fresno State left tackle Logan Mankins in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft before sliding him inside to left guard at the next level.
2. C Barrett Jones, Alabama (FRX: #61 overall prospect, $657)
Jones may not have the elite physical tools to earn a spot in the first round of the NFL Draft, but could make sense if he were available for New England’s second-round selection in 2013. A two-time All-American who started 49 games with the Crimson Tide, Bill Belichick should be very familiar with Jones considering his time spent under Belichick disciple Nick Saban. Jones’ versatility, having played right guard, left tackle, and center, should increase his attractiveness.
3. OT/OG Brian Winters, Kent St. (FRX: #94 overall prospect, $492)
Winters has some flaws as a prospect – he is not the quickest out of his stance and did not play for one of the biggest college football programs – but, like Pugh, he could appeal to the Patriots as a collegiate left tackle who could shift inside to guard at the next level. Like current left guard Logan Mankins, Winters’ greatest asset as a blocker is his killer instinct; he is eager to finish blocks and has the size at 6’4” and 320 pounds to do so at the next level. He started 49 games at Kent State.
4. OT Reid Fragel, Ohio St. (FRX: #143 overall prospect, $437)
Fragel’s stock is on the rise after a strong Combine performance; he stood 6’8” and weighed 308 pounds before running the 40-yard dash in 5.09 seconds and putting up 33 repetitions on the bench press. A converted tight end, Fragel also played on special teams before transitioning to right tackle under head coach Urban Meyer. Without much experience at tackle, Fragel is not very technically advanced but possesses considerable upside as he becomes more familiar with the position.
5. OT Xavier Nixon, Florida (FRX: #187 overall prospect, $425)
Nixon is a finesse tackle with an intriguing combination of size (6’6”, 321 pounds), length (33.5” arms), and athleticism (5.23 seconds in the 40-yard dash.) His agility and movement skills are his most attractive qualities, but he also seemed to improve his awareness as a senior. Not considered one of the nastiest offensive linemen available, he could slip to the fifth round, where he would make some sense as a Patriots draft target; he projects as a reserve tackle in the NFL.
6. OT Tanner Hawkinson, Kansas (FRX: #187 overall prospect, $425)
Tanner Hawkinson played under former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis as a senior; at 6’5” and 298 pounds with long arms (33 3/8”), he possesses the size to remain outside at the next level. Hawkinson began his collegiate career as a tight end before shifting to defensive end, right tackle, and finally left tackle. Despite moving around, he went on to start 48 games at tackle with the Jayhawks, a school record. He is relatively advanced technically, which masks his average strength.
7. C Matt Stankiewitch, Penn St. (FRX: #187 overall prospect, $425)
Like some of the other prospects listed, Stankiewitch could stand out to New England because of his time spent under Bill O’Brien last season; his senior campaign experience with O’Brien means he should enter the league more ready to contribute than most other late-round center prospects. He will attempt to follow in the footsteps of other recent Penn State interior linemen such as Stefen Wisniewski and Rich Ohrnberger, the latter of which he compares favorably to.