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Patriots 2022 Draft Preview: Guards

Rich Schultz. Shutterstock Images.

Current Roster: Michael Onwenu, James Ferentz, someone out of the University of Windsor named Drew Desjarlais whose name appears on the team's unofficial depth chart. And that is it. To the point the only name I could find in an action photo near Mac Jones is Ferentz, playing center in the preseason game against the Eagles. 

Positional Overview: That roster above should tell you everything you need to know about the needs at this position. Having lost a Franchise Tag-level guard Joe Thuney to the AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs in free agency 2021, the Pats lost his replacement Ted Karras to the AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals in 2022. While sending Shaq Mason to Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a trade for some Dunkin Donuts gift cards. So there is most definitely a pattern here. The Pats have a thing about letting their top interior linemen leave for top contenders. 

Landing Onwenu with the 182nd pick two drafts ago was the football equivalent of finding a Survivor Immunity Idol in a hollowed out tree trunk. Easily the best sixth round pick out of Michigan the franchise has ever had. (I think. I don't know much about Patriots history.) And Ferentz has been a solid, if unspectacular, role player in his two tours of duty in New England. But it's hard to argue that adding to the two players lined up in Jones' 10- and 2 o'clock positions aren't a major area of priority. 

That said, guard is perhaps the most boring of all positions. They're practical, as opposed to being sexy. Like the pre-owned Toyota RAV-4 you buy your teenager because it's under warranty and has a good safety rating, not the muscle car that has a back floor custom built as a landing spot for prom dresses. And as much as Bill Belichick is philosophically committed to building from the inside-to-out, he's only drafted 14 guards in his time in New England. From Nick Kaczur to William Sherman last year. And none as high as Logan Mankins with the last pick in the first round in 2005. 

Still, it's an area of need now and going forward. But in an effort to be honest, I totally get there is minimal interest in this position. So I'm going to try to reduce the time I spend on this and the amount of information I provide accordingly. I've got better things to do than write this just for myself. Not really, but you get the point. 

Likely First Rounders the Patriots Have Met With:

Kenyon Green, Texas A&M. 6-foot-4, 323 pounds, 5.24 40-yard dash, 20 Bench Press reps

Green has been projected as a potential first round pick ever since he was a freshman. And nothing he's done lately has disabused anyone of that notion. He's far and away the most versatile O-lineman in this group, having started 35 games at no less than four positions. His major strength is as a run blocker, who will take care of his primary target, then bounce to the second level in search of other bogeys to neutralize. He's still developing as pass blocker, but he's got a strong first punch to redirect interior rushers. And he's got the football IQ to identify stunts and twists. As of right now, he's already got the size, strength and agility to be an NFL starter as a rookie. What in real estate they call a "turn-key," because you don't need to do anything to get it ready before you move in. 

Compares to the Other Leading Brand: David DeCastro

Zion Johnson, Boston College. 6-3, 312 lbs, 5.18, 32 reps

Johnson is another versatile, all around lineman who some will consider a tackle prospect. Though with the league trending more toward tackles the size of the Argonath in Middle Earth, most see him moving inside as a pro, as he started 11 of 12 games there in his final season on Chestnut Hill. He does have the strength to anchor against defensive tackles and the fluidity and movement to take on ends and linebackers. He ran both zones and powers for the Eagles. And proved he can mirror rushers in pass protection, while maintaining balance and controlling their movements. He made first team AP All-American in 2021, while twice getting voted team captain. And his 32 reps on the bench press was the most at the Indianapolis Circus. 

Compares to the Other Leading Brand: Michael Onwenu

Probable Day 2 Picks:

Jamaree Salyer, Georgia. 6-3, 321 lbs, 5.35, 31 reps

Salyer was a finalist for the Anthony Munoz HS O-lineman of the Year Award and was the top guard prospect in the nation when Georgia recruited him. He's another guy who has started games all across the line, with two starts at RT in 2019, nine at LT in 2020, then 11 at LT last year before moving to guard for the National Title game win over Alabama. A major reason why a starting lineman from a legacy program on a championship team isn't higher on most boards is he's a little weirdly built, with a thin lower half on an otherwise big frame, and that negatively impacts his balance and fundamentals. He's more of a project. Someone who can be your depth guy/special teamer while you coach him up and get him to gain true reverence for the importance of Leg Day. Though I'll confess I'd love him in New England for all the Slayer references that would simply write themselves. 

Compares to the Other Leading Brand: Danny Pinter

Dylan Parham, Memphis. 6-3, 311 lbs, 4.93

Like virtually everyone else we've mentioned, Parham has moved around the line. Unlike the others, he got his start as a blocking tight end before someone realized he wasn't fooling anyone as a threat in the passing game so they moved him inside. But he still retains that tight ends instinct for getting off the line, as he's as good at firing out of his stance to initiate contact as anyone in this group. He's also as experienced as anyone, a senior with over 50 career games. A former Junior Olympian with size and quickness to be a pulling guard should check enough boxes to be a Top 100 pick.

Compares to the Other Leading Brand: Andy Levitre

Sean Rhyan, UCLA. 6-5, 321 lbs, 5.25

Rhyan was a Top 60 recruit as a California All-State athlete, with a background in Rugby, as well throwing things in Field, if not so much in Track. And that experience tossing stone Frisbees and candlepin bowling balls a long way have prepared him to be perhaps the best run blocker in the Guard Class of '22. But for a guy with so much length, he's got remarkably short arms, at just 32 3/8", as well as somewhat limited lateral quickness explains why he's best suited to the interior of the line. 

Compares to the Other Leading Brand: Alijah Vera-Tucker

Later Round Projects:

Cole Strange, Tennessee-Chattanooga. 6-5, 307 lbs, 5.03, 31 reps

Strange has made All-Conference an impressive five times. In fact, any more time and he'd have risked being one of those losers who come back to school to hang out when they should've moved on with their lives. Like Rachel and Kurt in Season 5 of Glee. Not surprisingly given his height, weight and speed, he's more of a mover than a power blocker. Someone who can get out in front on a pull or a screen to take out a linebacker or safety. And oftentimes both. He'll need to add bulk in order to not get blown off the blocks by 320 pounders in the pros. But there's room on his frame to put the mass once he gets his pump on for a team willing to be patient.

Compares to the Other Leading Brand: JC Tretter

Ed Ingram, LSU. 6-3, 307 lbs, 5.02

A promising beginning to his career when he started 12 games as a freshman got derailed when he started zero games as an accused sexual assaulter the following year. The charges were dismissed and he returned as a backup before getting his starter job back and earning a Senior Bowl invitation this year. He's got all the traits as a powerful, point-of-attack run blocker, as well as combo blocking up to the second level. And he might very well be the best pulling guard on the draft board.  He needs to improve on his contact balance if he's going to be able to stand up to interior rushers in the pros. But for a team with a lot of zone runs and sift action, he could be a great scheme fit while he develops his pass protection.

Compares to the Other Leading Brand: Ben Powers

The Perfect Patriot: Johnson. This really is a jump ball between Johnson and Green. And in this situation, the Possession Arrow belongs to the faster, stronger guy. Not that Bench Press is the be all and end all for this personnel staff. Nate Solder had among the fewest reps at the Lucas Oil Games when he came out, and they used the 17th pick on him and kept him defending Tom Brady's perfectly spherical ass for eight years. 

Whom They'll Select: Johnson. I do not say this with an electric thrill of excitement shooting up and down my spine. To circle back to the beginning, no one gets excited over a guard in the first round, where Johnson will probably have to be selected. I have the same dreams of a wideout, game-changing linebacker or shutdown corner we all share. But Johnson is this good a prospect in an area of need. If they can perhaps slide back a few spots and add some flexibility in the next two rounds, he'd be the classic value pick that Mankins was. And nobody regretted having him dominate the interior of opposing defenses and break their collective will for nine glorious seasons. If Johnson is not available, look for Parham on Day 2. They love a guy with experience who can play all over the formation, even as a third tight end and the occasional tackle eligible. 

Earlier previews:

Slot receivers

Wide receivers