The New England Patriots should be a playoff team in 2023 since they only missed that plateau by a meager one game in 2022. But is this personnel operation up to the task?
A good 2023 offseason should make up that slim difference but those are hard to come by in Foxborough. After largely botching the massive free agency spend in 2021 and drafting poorly much of the time the past five or so years, the team is at a crossroads.
Since kicking Tom Brady to the curb, the team has been mediocre. Both scouting/personnel and coaching should be called on the carpet.
The offensive non-coordinator coaching situation in 2022 completely derailed a playoff berth. Personnel is a perennial underachiever. Last season they ill-advisedly dismantled an otherwise fairly solid (other than at tackle) offensive line.
Now, they need an overhaul of that unit, especially at tackle. So why are offensive tackles and the O-line generally so important?
New England Patriots offensive line is the key to success
While mock drafters and experts alike throw out positions like wide receiver and cornerback for the top two draft picks for the New England Patriots, they’re off base.
It’s not because they don’t need help there. They do. But when and in what sequence is a critical aspect of the analysis.
The entire offense depends on the offensive line for everything good. As noted, it’s essential to the passing game, especially the tackles since keeping a clean pocket with immobile Mac Jones, a quarterback who sorely lacks escapability is imperative.
They also make the running game work. These two elements keep drives alive and the ball out of the opposing offense’s hands. Finally, sustaining long drives and capping them off by scoring touchdowns (not just points) keeps your defense fresh and wins games.
For those reasons, prioritizing any position other than offensive tackle as the No. One off-season priority is misguided and a ticket to further mediocrity.
New England Patriots two-fold strategy for offensive tackle
The New England Patriots need a few moves to shore up a truly thin offensive tackle corps. First, they need to invest their first pick, wherever it falls in the position.
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If they keep the 14th pick, it has to be one of the top four tackles. If not, they can perhaps trade down and pick another position like an edge rusher. (Lukas Van Ness from Iowa is a difference-maker there). Then they can draft a right tackle, Dawand Jones from Ohio State.
Adding another long tackle (to avoid another Isaiah Wynn-like miss on a shorter guy) later in the draft, e.g. in the fourth round is also advisable. Then, there’s free agency.
The New England Patriots need to invest heavily in a starting tackle there. Trent Brown’s contract ends after 2023. Adding a starting veteran will give the top pick time to fill in and/or be ready to start in 2024 if Brown departs.
Until and unless the top need, offensive tackle is shored up, other positions have to be secondary no matter how glitzy a wide receiver or a cornerback high in the draft appears.
The Patriots can’t draft those two positions. Their recent history is littered with failures on high picks there. Stay away and look to trades and free agency for established NFL players before delving into those waters, maybe in the third or later rounds.
The Patriots need to learn from their past mistakes, get real, do the right thing with a consensus draft, and stay away from reaches. It’s time.