5 Offensive Tackles the Patriots Should Be Watching at 2016 NFL Scouting Combine
The New England Patriots had some depth issues on the offensive line last season, exacerbated by some injuries throughout the course of the year.
Left tackle Nate Solder's torn pectoral muscle was the first domino to fall, and from there, things came unraveled with a mix of Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming, LaAdrian Waddle and even center Bryan Stork starting at tackle.
That being said, injuries aren't the Patriots' only concerns. The 2016 season is the final year of right tackle Sebastian Vollmer's contract, and who knows if the Patriots will be thrilled to re-sign a 32-going-on-33-year-old lineman with a history of injuries and back problems. It's also the final year of Cannon's contract extension, which was signed at the end of the 2014 season.
Whether it's a starter or a backup, now might be a good time to start searching for new players to step into the stable of linemen.
Jason Spriggs, Indiana
Indiana's Jason Spriggs bears a lot of similarity to Solder. Like Solder, Spriggs once played tight end—although unlike Solder, Spriggs' experience at tight end was limited to high school, and he was a full-time, four-year starter for Indiana. Like Solder, Spriggs has the length to excel in pass protection, but there are questions about his play strength.
Like Solder, NFL draft pundits are all over the map as to Spriggs' value relative to draft slotting, anywhere from the second to fourth rounds.
CBS Sports' Dane Brugler and Rob Rang compared Spriggs to Solder for his balance in pass protection and his ability to get to the second level as a run-blocker. That being said, NFL.com's Lance Zierlein points out that Spriggs' "play strength and overall recovery ability are major concerns" that might force him to move inside to guard.
But the Patriots aren't drafting a starting tackle; right now, they're drafting a backup/swing tackle, albeit one who might eventually become a starter. The Patriots could draft Spriggs with an eye to the future, with Vollmer's contract set to expire after the 2016 season.
John Theus, Georgia
Like most products out of the Southeastern Conference (SEC), Georgia tackle John Theus has plenty of experience against some of the best players in the country, many of whom will be playing football on Sundays this year or in the near future.
At 6'6" and 313 pounds, he also has the size to play at the NFL level. With experience at both left tackle and right tackle, he has exactly what it takes to be a backup swing tackle for the Patriots. He's also been labeled durable by Rang, who points out Theus started 48 out of a possible 53 games in his Georgia career, and he played in the other five (meaning he never missed a game).
On the flip side, Zierlein contends that Theus would need to "add strength and mass" in order to become a full-time starter at the NFL level. According to Zierlein, Theus lacks the foot quickness of a left tackle and the pure power of a right tackle. If he can add the latter, he could be an eventual heir to Vollmer's spot on the right.
Kyle Murphy, Stanford
Stanford has produced some quality offensive linemen in recent drafts, including Pittsburgh Steelers guard David DeCastro and New Orleans Saints tackle Andrus Peat. Kyle Murphy is far from the first-round prospect that those two were, but he has definite potential to be on the Patriots' radar.
Murphy checks two major boxes on his scouting report with his status as a team captain and his ability to play multiple positions, having started at both left tackle and right tackle over the course of his career. The Patriots can certainly get a good scouting report on Murphy from his former teammate and current backup tackle Cameron Fleming.
According to Ryan Hannable of WEEI.com, Murphy has already met with the Patriots at the NFL Scouting Combine and the Senior Bowl.
At 6'6" and 305 pounds, Murphy has what Rang qualifies as "prototypical build" for the position. He also measured in with 33.5-inch arms, but according to Zierlein, he has a tendency to rely too much on his length and to play too tall at times.
He might not be ready to start immediately, but give him a little time to work with Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, and Murphy could soon realize his full potential.
Germain Ifedi, Texas A&M
If the Patriots want one of the better physical specimens on the offensive line in this year's draft, Texas A&M's Germain Ifedi fits the bill. The 6'6", 324-pound behemoth sports stunning 36-inch arms, some of the longest among anyone at the combine this year.
When it comes to his fit with the Patriots, his experience at multiple positions fits the bill. The Patriots like adding linemen who can potentially step into a number of spots—as we saw last year, you never know who will be needed at which position.
According to Brugler, his poor technique leads to balance issues, and he sometimes plays with poor leverage given his size. If he can improve in those areas—and with some hard coaching from Scarnecchia, he will—the Patriots could have themselves a starting tackle in a year or two.
Cole Toner, Harvard
The Patriots haven't drafted a player from Harvard since running back Tony Hinz in the 11th round in 1989, but if there was ever a reason to break the streak, tackle Cole Toner might be it.
The 6'5", 306-pound tackle isn't exactly a mauler, but he had good initial quickness and he understands leverage and technique, according to Rang. He's a right tackle only and may never be more than a backup swing tackle, but on Day 3 of the draft, you're not expecting much more than solid backups.
The one problem with a prospect from Harvard is the lack of elite competition to measure him up against on tape; only a select few Ivy Leaguers in this year's draft will even have a chance to play on Sundays. That being said, as noted by Zierlein, Toner lined up against former Indianapolis Colts defensive end Zach Hodges every day in practice.
Given time to develop, Toner could be a valuable backup or even an extra lineman in jumbo packages.