NFL Draft hidden gems: Kentucky center could be steal for Patriots

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Patriots fans were pleasantly surprised last week when starting center and team captain David Andrews was brought back on a very team-friendly four-year deal.

When healthy, Andrews might be the most important piece of the team’s offensive line. When he misses time, the offense sputters, which was evident in 2019.

From 2015 to 2018, the Patriots averaged roughly 387 yards-per-game on offense. In 2019, when Andrews missed the entire season due to blood clots in his lungs, the offense dipped down to about 354 yard-per-game. He’s an unsung hero on that side of the ball. The Patriots see this and it’s good the team locked him up for the foreseeable future.

Looking closely at Andrews’ deal, there is hardly any guaranteed money remaining after year two of the contract. According to Spotrac, the team would only incur a $750,000 dead cap hit if they decided to move on from Andrews after the 2022 season, ahead of him turning 31. Despite the new deal and Andrews’ reliability outside of his uncontrollable health scare two years ago, it’s probably wise that the team looks for future successors at the center position, or at least a young backup option should Andrews miss any time. They took a swing with Memphis’ Dustin Woodard in the seventh round of last year’s draft, but Woodard didn’t even make it through training camp and promptly retired before ever playing a down in the NFL.

Should the team look to take another shot this year, Kentucky’s Drake Jackson could be a potential option in the later rounds.

Drake Jackson – Kentucky

Week 1 Age: 23

Size: 6’2” 292 lbs

Projected Round: 5

Jackson saved his best collegiate season for his last, grading at 85 percent in 10 games played, and missing just one assignment in 627 snaps. A team captain, Jackson was a four-year starter at Kentucky, including 44-straight, which helped earn him First-Team All-SEC honors by Pro Football Focus. Like Andrews, Jackson was on the Rimington Trophy watch list for the nation's top center in 2020, as well as the watch list for the Outland Trophy for the country’s best interior lineman.

One of the first things that jump off the page about Jackson is his size. 6’2” 292 pounds is slightly undersized for the position, although not for the Patriots who start Andrews at relatively the same build (6’3” 300 lbs). But Jackson has the quickness and reach to make up for his lack of length and solid hand placement to stave off interior defenders.

Here he quickly gets out of position to not only get in front of the defensive tackle and allow #79 to get to the second level, but turn him to open up a wide-open running lane for the ball carrier.

On this play, he single-handily erases two defenders and sets up the touchdown.

At the Senior Bowl in January, Jackson showed he can more than handle two of the more powerful defensive tackles in this year’s class – USC’s Marlon Tuipulotu and Florida State’s Marvin Wilson, both projected day-two picks.

Is he a fit for the Patriots? Jackson strictly played center for the Wildcats, so he doesn’t offer much versatility. With so few roster spots open heading into the new season and Karras on board for 2021, the Patriots may opt to go for a prospect with experience at guard as well. But it’s hard to look at Jackson and not see him excel in a lot of the same areas the Patriots run offense does. He’s shown he can dominate scheme-based run blocking assignments and hold his own against power rushes in pass protection. Day three is a sweet spot for offensive line depth, and with seven picks between rounds four through seven, the team could have Jackson right in their crosshairs.