The New England Patriots had lots of make-up work to do at guard in this past offseason and they moved aggressively to patch up a shoddy situation they created for themselves.
The Patriots decimated their own guard situation in the 2021 and 2022 offseasons by jettisoning their top 3 guards, Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason, and Ted Karras. All were solid contributors to the team’s success during the Tom Brady years.
By letting go of all three veterans in free agency or by trade, the team subsequently felt obligated to use a precious first-round pick in 2022 on Cole Strange, a guard from Tennessee Chattanooga.
Significantly reaching for Strange in the draft compounded those previous errors. He was projected by many as a likely third-round pick or so. This was a mistake.
These gaffes left the team drastically short at guard in 2022. Strange was a starter for the most part, though he was benched at one point and only returned to the starting lineup after injuries decimated the already weak unit.
The New England Patriots’ top guard was a sixth-round pick
The top positive at the guard position is a former sixth-round pick, the terrific Michael Onwenu. Drafted in the sixth round in 2020, Onwenu has performed admirably for the New England Patriots both at guard and at right tackle when called upon.
Frankly, Onwenu was and still is the team’s best right tackle though Bill Belichick doesn’t seem to want to deploy him there even if it costs the team dearly, as it did in 2021.
That year, he delayed moving Onwenu there and it cost the team the AFC East Division, a home playoff game, and a higher seed in the playoffs.
Nevertheless, Onwenu is arguably the best offensive lineman period on the New England Patriots with due deference to David Andrews who is close.
Confoundingly, the Patriots have failed once again to tie down this top performer to a contract extension as Onwenu enters 2023 in his last season contractually with the team. Don’t expect them to re-sign him.
New England Patriots drafted guards for depth in 2023
With the impending loss of Onwenu seemingly in mind along with a staggering lack of depth at the position, the New England Patriots moved aggressively in the draft to bring in reinforcements. That’s the second positive.
They first drafted guard/tackle Sidy Sow from Eastern Michigan in the fourth round and followed by drafting Antonio Mafi, a favorite in this space, from UCLA in the fifth round.
Here’s what Pro Football Focus had to say about Sow:
"Sow is one of the more experienced offensive line prospects in this class, having played over 3,500 snaps across five seasons at Eastern Michigan. He’s a big, athletic guard at 324 pounds who graded better on gap-scheme runs than zone runs in college.New England landed a big, athletic guard in Sidy Sow in the fourth round and goes back to the well with the 6-foot-4, 339-pound Mafi here…"
That’s a significant amount of draft capital to expend on guards but big guards like Sow and Mafi who can play are always a solid addition.
The Patriots can now deploy Onwenu, a top performer, and Strange, an average but NFL-qualified player to start and back them up with Sow, Mafi, and even center/guard Jake Andrews. At some point, Sow or Mafi may take Strange’s starting position from him.
That notwithstanding, the presence of one top starter, another with a year’s experience, and these young guards certainly make the guard position one of the potentially top-depth positions on the New England Patriots.
With those points in mind, the positional grade is a B+. The team should be ready to go at guard with Onwenu, Strange, and solid depth with the rookies.
With this added depth, the New England Patriots look readily able to withstand the injury issues that inevitably surface over the long 17-game NFL season. And that’s a good place to be.