Over the next couple weeks, WEEI.com will take a position-by-position look at the Patriots rebuilt roster heading into training camp 2021. What’s the depth chart look like? What’s the biggest question at each position? How might the competition at each spot unfold this summer under Bill Belichick’s watchful eye? Today we break down an offensive line with the potential to be very, very good.
Roster: Isaiah Wynn, Mike Onwenu, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Trent Brown, Ted Karras, Justin Herron, Korey Cunningham, Will Sherman, Alex Redmond, James Ferentz, Yodny Cajuste, Marcus Martin, R.J. Prince
Key Additions: Brown (Trade, Raiders), Karras (FA, Dolphins)
Key Losses: Joe Thuney (FA, Chiefs)
Predicted Starters: Wynn (LT), Onwenu (LG), Andrews (C), Mason (RG), Brown (RT)
Notes: New England used eight different starting lineups on the offensive line in 2020, including five in the first six games of the season. … Thuney and the then-rookie Onwenu were the only two linemen to start all 16 games, although neither started at the same position all year long. … Brown returns to New England after a couple seasons with the Raiders in which he played in just 16 of a possible 32 games over two years in Oakland/Las Vegas. … Wynn has landed on IR in each of his first three NFL seasons, the former first-round pick out of Georgia playing in only 18 of a possible 48 games in his career. … Karras returns to New England after one season with the Dolphins in which he started all 16 games for Miami and served as a Dolphins team captain. … Onwenu was one of the NFL’s most surprising rookies a year ago, the sixth-round pick out of Michigan starting games at right tackle (10), right guard (3), left guard (1) and extra tight end (2) as a consistent positive force up front.
Biggest Question: Can talented, proven bookend tackles Wynn and Brown stay on the field to allow the Patriots offensive line to reach its full potential?
Snapshot Analysis: The Patriots have new tight ends, new wide receivers and potentially a new franchise QB on offense heading into 2021, but any success the unit has this fall will likely be built upon the foundation that its talented offensive line provides. Despite losing arguably its best, most consistent lineman in Thuney to a massive $80 million contract in Kansas City, New England has plenty of proven talent up front. There is little doubt the group has the potential to pave the way for a powerful running game and protect the passer. It could very well be one of the best blocking units in football. The one concern, though, is health. Wynn had his fifth-year contract option picked up this offseason despite his history of landing on IR in each of his first three seasons. He’s shown the ability to be an above average left tackle when on the field, but needs to prove he can actually stay on the field to take his game to the next level. Brown played at a high level in his only season in New England back in 2018 when he started 16 games at left tackle playing at a Pro Bowl rate on a Super Bowl team. He returns to likely man the right side after two disappointing seasons with the Raiders in which he failed to stay on the field or live up to his $60 million free agent contract. If Wynn and Brown are on the field all year it would be the first step toward the line and the offense as a whole reaching its full potential. The interior of the line has a bit more certainty, even with Thuney’s departure. Andrews remains the leader in the middle of it all up front, while Mason continues to be a solid mainstay at the right guard spot with Pro Bowl ability. Onwenu was a revelation not just in his level of play as a rookie, but his versatility.
Mainly a guard in college, he bounced all over the line successfully in his first taste of pro action. He seems poised to fill Thuney’s big cleats at left guard heading into his second season, but if injuries pop up could be utilized at any spot other than center. Karras, who started 15 games at center for New England in 2019, returns after a year with the Dolphins to likely an interior backup role that’s seen him bounce around all three spots during spring OTAs and minicamp. If there is a weakness to the Patriots line beyond health concerns, it’s a relative lack of depth. Beyond the super-sub Karras, guys like Herron and Cunningham are questionable options to turn to for any extended period. The rookie Sherman and the experienced veteran Redmond could be battling for a roster spot, while it looks like the former 2019 third-round pick Cajuste could be running out of chances. Overall, though, New England’s line should field high-end starting talent to make the unit the foundational strength of the offense, especially for a team seemingly built to run the football. Health is really the only factor that could derail the Patriots ability to control the line of scrimmage most weeks.
Position Rating: Very good