The New England Patriots wrapped up their offseason program a bit earlier than usual this year, with Bill Belichick cancelling the two final workouts last week. The team generally opts to cut the program short, opting to spend the last day of OTAs doing team building activities. But this year, the team put together a modified schedule for the whole week, spending Monday at Fenway Park and got an NFL history lesson from Belichick on Tuesday before being let out three days early like kids at summer vacation. The next thirty or so days until the start of training camp marks the last extended period of time players will have to themselves for the rest of the year. With that in mind, I will be continuing my position breakdown of the 2018 Patriots roster by taking a look at the offensive tackles.
(Author’s Note: For the purposes of this series, I am classifying G/T Cole Croston as a guard instead of a tackle. That being said, his versatility will no doubt factor into the tackle competition this year.)
The 2018 season marks the first time in a while that the Patriots are holding an open competition for the left tackle spot. Matt Light was the starter from 2001 to 2011, and Nate Solder held the spot down from 2012 through last year. In fact, neither of the Patriots’ starting tackles from Super Bowl 52 are on the roster. Solder signed a 4-year, $64 million deal with the New York Giants that made him the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history, and the Patriots opted to let Cameron Fleming walk and sign with the Dallas Cowboys. That being said, Marcus Cannon will be returning from injury and will hopefully build off of an extremely impressive 2016 season as the team’s starting right tackle. Everything other than that is up for grabs.
The Patriots drafted Georgia G/T Isaiah Wynn with the 23rd overall pick this year, and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia has said that they will give Wynn a chance to compete for the left tackle spot even though he is generally considered undersized for the position. Wynn was limited in OTAs due to an injury,but when he did play, he was inserted at left guard in Joe Thuney’s absence. As a result, training camp will be the first time we get to see him at left tackle. Trent Brown, the 6’8, 380 pound tackle the Patriots acquired from the San Francisco 49ers, will be Wynn’s primary competition for the starting left tackle spot. Brown is an excellent pass protector but a mediocre run blocker, and played mostly on the right side for the 49ers. Thus, both of the top candidates in the left tackle competition have a bit of a transition ahead of them. Whoever doesn’t win the starting job will nonetheless likely make the roster as the swing tackle.
Matt Tobin, LaAdrian Waddle, Andrew Jelks and Ulrick John all are competing for what may only be one spot. Of these players, I expect the last spot to come down to either Tobin or Waddle considering that they have more NFL experience than the others. In my opinion, Waddle is by far the best of the group; he has starter-caliber talent, but always has been plagued by injuries. During a two-week stretch last season, Waddle held Von Miller and Khalil Mack to a combined one sack. He did receive substantial help from the tight ends and running backs, but he also held his own in one-on-one situations.
However, his health is always a concern, as he constantly seems to be dealing with a nagging knee injury. If Waddle is unable to stay healthy during training camp, it opens up an opportunity for Tobin to secure himself a roster spot. Tobin, a former member of the Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks, is a career backup tackle and will have to impress during training camp and the preseason if he wants to earn a spot. Andrew Jelks and Ulrick John are both long shots to make the roster. The Patriots signed Jelks as an undrafted free agent last year, but he spent the entirety of the 2017 season on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list with a torn ACL. John has bounced around the league on both practice squads and active rosters.
I ultimately don’t know who will win the starting job, but I am willing to predict that Brown, Cannon, Wynn, and Waddle make the active roster, with the others likely getting released.
Roster (4): Trent Brown, Marcus Cannon, LaAdrian Waddle, Isaiah Wynn
Cut (3): Andrew Jelks, Ulrick John, Matt Tobin
Stay tuned next week as I discuss the rest of the offensive line.