The interior offensive line looked like a clear need for the New England Patriots heading into the draft. After runs at skill positions pushed some good prospects down the board, the Patriots pounced early in Day 3 and landed Florida State center Bryan Stork.
Stork (6'4", 315 lbs) is a huge lineman, and his selection seems to be a reaction against some problems that arose for the Patriots last year. Here's more on what Stork's addition means for the Patriots. offense.
Last season, starting center Ryan Wendell struggled mightily in pass protection, particularly against larger interior defensive tackles. Facing the aptly nicknamed Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton in the AFC Championship Game, Wendell compiled a minus-3.9 overall blocking grade, his second-worst performance of the year, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Stork allows the Patriots to counteract that issue. Winner of the Rimington Award as the nation's best center last season, Stork has the size to handle the biggest opposing tackles, and he should provide a significantly stronger push than what Wendell supplied in 2013.
Moreover, Stork possesses the high football IQ the Pats covet from their offensive linemen. His understanding of angles allows him to neutralize more athletic defensive linemen at the point of attack, which allows him to stack the opposition. As an extremely hard worker, Stork should endear himself immediately to the Patriots coaching staff.
In the meantime, Stork provides much-needed depth to the weakest part of the New England offense. Wendell and right guard Dan Connolly are below-average starters, and assuming the Pats keep Marcus Cannon on the outside as an insurance swing tackle, the top interior reserve before the draft was Josh Kline. As NEPD's James Christensen notes, there's enough depth there to allow the Patriots to develop Stork as a reserve:
Bryan Stork—like Nate Solder—might not start right away in New England. I think he'll get there sooner rather than later.— James Christensen (@NEPatriotsDraft) May 10, 2014
The Pats could save $3 million by shedding Connolly's deal, but they surely will not rush Stork. Still, if the ex-Seminole proves he is ready quickly, he will provide an immediate long-term solution to an underrated area of weakness.
While Stork can slide and seal at the second level, he is relatively stiff-hipped and less athletic than the raw projects the Patriots typically select. Centers typically have less pulling responsibility than any other linemen, but it's less than ideal that Stork has limited movement skills.
Moreover, Stork could use some more polish in several areas. He needs to bend at the knees rather than at the waist more consistently, as using the latter technique leaves him vulnerable to a quick countermove. Moreover, for someone who is as big as Stork, he needs a bit more functional strength, as he occasionally gets pushed into the backfield (especially when he fails to engage his hands with the defensive lineman).
Stork also has short arms (32.25"), which prevent him from properly executing reach and combo blocks at times. They also likely limit him to playing on the interior of the line, as he will never have the reach to fend off faster and longer edge-rushers. Against teams that utilize smaller and quicker defensive tackles as part of a "NASCAR" package, Stork could have some issues.
While Stork certainly has his limitations, he is a blue-collar worker who adds much-needed size to the Patriots interior offensive line. For a team that thrives on inside zone runs, Stork is a welcome addition.
Do the Patriots need a new starter(s) in the interior offensive line?
It's always good practice to plan ahead with mid-round picks, and Stork looks like a future starter at a position of need. According to PFF, Tom Brady has faced significantly more problems against interior pressure than edge pressure recently, so shoring up the pocket was a critical requirement heading into this draft.
Offensive linemen rarely elicit much excitement, but as safe and projectable pieces, they are certainly solid investments. The Patriots got nice value with Stork, and the team should reap the benefits within a year or two.
All height/weight information and other measurements courtesy of NFL.com.