By Chris Warner
Today we preview possible New England draft picks for the guys up front protecting quarterback Tom Brady.
In 2012, the Patriots got surprise performances from veterans Matt Light and Brian Waters. The latter’s effort deserves special praise considering he arrived late in the preseason and ended up as a 16-game starter.
All seemed set for an uneventful transition year to give 2011 rookies Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon more experience, but both Light and Waters are considering retirement, guard Logan Mankins is recovering from knee surgery, and center Dan Koppen is entering his tenth season, crossing the Rubicon for NFL linemen. The health of tackle Sebastian Vollmer has become a lingering concern.
That all points to an unexpected urgency in finding at least one new linemen in the 2012 draft. The Patriots have two picks in the first round (27 and 31 overall), two in the second (48, 62), one in the third (93) and one in the fourth (126). They traded away their fifth-, sixth- and seventh-round picks.
DAY ONE (Round One)
Overview: With four picks in the top 64, New England has a great chance to improve their offensive front next week.
Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin (6-4, 314)). What the heck is it with those Wisconsin guys? Is it the cheese? The bratwursts? Whatever it is, Zeitler fits the profile of a strong interior lineman (32 bench reps of 225 pounds) who could help right away. He lacks quick feet but has precise technique on the field which aided the Badgers in gaining over 235 yards on the ground per game.
Cordy Glenn, Georgia (6-6, 345). Glenn played tackle for the Bulldogs but may project to guard at the NFL level. Another powerful monolith of a man, Glenn benched 225 pounds 35 times while also notching a 5.15-second 40-yard dash. Has experience at tackle and both left and right guard in college, the type of flexibility and experience that one Coach Bill Belichick covets.
DAY TWO (Rounds Two and Three)
Overview: Still many solid athletes available on Day Two. Depending on how much Patriots coaches feel they need a rookie lineman (and it says here they do, indeed), New England could go for defense on Day One and try their hand at a big body on Friday, April 27.
Brandon Brooks, Miami of Ohio (6-5, 346). Brooks joins Glenn as a member of the Last Names First Club, but more importantly, he can make a difference up front. Some may question his level of competition, but his athleticism at his pro day spoke for itself: a 4.99-second 40, 36 bench reps, and a 32-inch vertical leap. (A 346-pounder leaping 32 inches? My knees hurt just thinking about it.)
Brooks could be a raw prospect, but one with amazing potential, especially in line coach Dante Scarnecchia’s School of You Better Get This (Expletive) Right. (The man knows his way around certain phrases.)
Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State (6-6, 333). My goodness. Remember when 300-pounders were mostly stocky guys with big guts? Osemele has the size and strength (36 bench reps) to pave the way for running backs, and the reach to protect the passer (35-inch arms). Made All-Big 12 as a senior and started over 40 games in a row at Iowa State.
DAY THREE (Rounds Four through Seven)
Overview: New England only has one pick next Saturday (which over the course of the draft should change only slightly less often than Foxboro’s weather). Some risks worth taking here.
Tony Bergstrom, Utah (6-5, 313). Besides decent speed (5.27 40) and solid strength (32 bench reps), Bergstrom has great technique and experience. He played right tackle for the Utes but hunkered down at guard for the Senior Bowl, where he got positive reviews. Made All-Pac-12 Conference First Team.
I know: Utah in the Pac-12. Still not used to that.
Lucas Nix, Pitt (6-5, 317). Nix had a rough senior year, as he hurt his knee midway through the season and was charged with a crime (disorderly conduct) stemming from what sounds like a brief confrontation/misunderstanding. Nix’s misfortune, however, could prove lucky for an NFL team looking to use a Day Three draft pick on a guard prospect with experience all along the offensive line.
UNDRAFTED ROOKIE FREE AGENTS (UDFAs)
Overview: Years ago, the Patriots made a habit of taking rookie free agents and other cast-offs and creating cohesive, solid O-lines. Players like Stephen Neal, Russ Hochstein, and Brandon Gorin filled in and helped New England win Super Bowls. At a position as prone to injury as any other, we expect a few UDFAs to fill out the preseason lineup (and maybe even sneak onto the regular-season roster).
Markus Zusevics, Iowa (6-5, 303). Zusevics comes from the land of corn and the college football team that ol’ Belichick pal Kirk Ferentz coaches. Zusevics played tackle for the Hawkeyes but could fit as guard. None of that may matter this year, though, as he tore his pectoral muscle during the combine (while benching for scouts, no less).
The Pats took a chance on Cannon last year; they could reap the benefits of Zusevics in 2013 if not sooner.
Nick Mondek, Purdue (6-6, 304). With former Purdue product Light weighing his future, why not look for a fresh Boilermaker? (By the way, I used to be a big proponent of fresh boilermakers… but enough about college.) Mondek ran a 4.84 40-yard dash (What?!?) and benched 225 pounds 30 times. If he goes undrafted, some team has to get that physical prowess onto the field.
Our Call: With so much uncertainty regarding the line, we feel that Coach Belichick should seek to bolster the Foxboro front five with a Day Two pick and supplement with some undrafted athletes.
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Email Chris Warner at chris.[email protected]