The New England Patriots have exposed their intentions on Day 3 of the NFL draft. For the third time in four picks, the Pats opted to add to the offensive line, drafting Florida guard Jon Halapio in the sixth round.
Patriots fans are likely scratching their head at this decision. While interior offensive line did look like an area to address, New England has largely ignored defensive needs to buttress an area where its entire 2013 starting five will return.
That does not necessarily qualify Halapio as a poor prospect. The drafting of Halapio reveals an important trend in New England's offensive philosophy, one that seems to mark a movement toward power high-efficiency football.
Like previous selections Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming, Halapio (6'3", 323 lbs) is a huge man. Unlike the latter two selections, however, Halapio is already polished in terms of translating those measurables into functional power.
Consequently, Halapio's greatest strength is in the run-blocking game. When he engages his hands into a defensive lineman, Halapio is able to bludgeon the opposition with blunt force and open up massive running lanes. As such, Halapio excels at drive blocks, particularly when he can move straight ahead rather than concerning himself with reads and second-level identification.
In addition, Halapio is one of the draft's toughest players. According to Jesse Simonton of the Miami Herald, Halapio played 10 games in 2013 with a pectoral that was 80 percent torn last season. Halapio was less effective than in previous years, as one would expect given such a debilitating injury, but it's indicative of a high pain tolerance and gritty mindset:
Jon Halapio was the first player I interviewed at the Senior Bowl.. Tough SOB, played with a torn Pectoral for much of season— Mike Loyko (@NEPD_Loyko) May 10, 2014
Moreover, by adding so much depth to the interior, the Patriots have given themselves more options in regards to underwhelming starters Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly. The latter could be on the chopping block, as New England would reap significant cap savings by cutting Connolly:
If Stork and Halapio play well in camp, it could be bad news for Connolly. Pats would save $3M against cap by cutting Connolly.— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) May 10, 2014
Halapio and Stork are both a bit raw to expect immediate contributions in 2014, but solid development could lead to an interior overhaul ahead of the 2015 season.
Unfortunately, unlike Stork and Fleming, Halapio does not defy his size with surprising fluidity. Halapio is among the worst movers in the draft, as he will never pull or down block effectively. The Pats typically look for more fluid athletes with their offensive linemen, but Halapio convincingly defies that trend. His combine numbers were among the worst, indicating a lack of full-body explosiveness:
Halapio tied for lowest-vertical jump among OL at the NFL Combine. 21-1.5 inches. Pats liked fact he's well-grounded.— Tom E. Curran (@tomecurran) May 10, 2014
Halapio can still be a functional pass-blocker, but he certainly struggles more in that area than with the ground game. An extremely stiff-hipped linemen, Halapio is vulnerable to counter swim and rip moves that require coordination and quick slide steps.
Therefore, Halapio is almost entirely an upper-body blocker. His lower body is alarmingly static on most plays, so unless he takes the proper angle to the defensive lineman, Halapio has little hope of winning a space battle. With limited range, Halapio initially looks like a poor fit for New England's mobile zone-blocking scheme.
And while his toughness is impressive, the torn pectoral was not the only injury Halapio suffered at Gainesville. Halapio has also missed time with a torn meniscus, shoulder injury and finger injury. Halapio has enticing size, but if he cannot stay on the field, the Patriots will never be able to refine his unpolished footwork. Without more coordination and awareness, Halapio is not a starting-caliber lineman.
The three offensive linemen drafted Saturday are all powerful but somewhat unrefined blockers. Out of necessity, New England morphed into a run-heavy power offense by the end of 2013. In a league increasingly oriented toward spread formations and passing, could the Pats be going against the grain?
Do you like the Jon Halapio pick?
Regardless, Halapio could actually be the best run-blocker the Patriots have selected thus far. If he stays healthy, he will eventually provide early-down value. Halapio seems like a better fit for a man-blocking run scheme, but there is little doubting his ability on the ground.
Still, Halapio is far from being a functional pass-blocker. With talented defensive front-seven prospects like Jackson Jeffcoat and Tyler Starr still available, Halapio looks like a luxury developmental pick, rather than someone who could help in 2014.