2020 NFL Draft: Prototypical Patriots at offensive guard, center
On paper, the interior of the Patriots offensive line looks set. Joe Thuney, David Andrews and Shaq Mason are all under contract. They're all at points in their respective careers when they should be well within their primes. But Thuney is currently scheduled to play on the franchise tag. He could be dealt for salary cap relief. He could depart next offseason via free agency. Meanwhile, there is optimism that Andrews will be able to play in 2019, but he's coming off of a missed season due to blood clots in his lungs.
The team added an interior player in last year's draft, Hjalte Froholdt, who missed his entire rookie season on injured reserve. Another backup, Ted Karras, who filled in for Andrews admirably at center in 2019, departed via free agency.
Depth here might help. What kind of player might the Patriots be looking for if they go that route? Someone smart. Someone tough. Someone who can move. A 40 time in the low five-second range and a 7.5 second three-cone or better would help. There are plenty of options in this year's draft class. Let's get to them...
Cesar Ruiz, Michigan
6-foot-3, 307 pounds
Considered the top center prospect in the class, Ruiz could play guard at the next level if needed. He's an athlete with a 5.08-second 40 time (88th percentile), a 33-inch vertical (95th) and a 113-inch broad jump (95th).
He also has massive 11-inch mitts that work like meat hooks. When he latches onto a defender, he doesn't let go. He allowed only nine pressures (no sacks) last season, per Pro Football Focus.
Matt Hennessy, Temple
6-foot-4, 307 pounds
A three-year starter for the Owls, he's allowed just three pressures (!) on 240 true pass sets (excluding quick passing game) over the last two seasons. He's plenty athletic with a 5.18-second 40, a 30-inch vertical a 110-inch broad, a 7.45-second three-cone (91st percentile) and a 4.6-second short-shuttle.
His Relative Athletic Score — developed by Kent Lee Platte to grade athletic testing and physical measurements — is the seventh-best among all offensive linemen in the class. A third-team AP All-American last year, he was awarded a single-digit practice jersey, recognizing him as one of the toughest players on the team.
Jack Driscoll, Auburn
6-foot-5, 306 pounds
Driscoll tested out well enough to profile as either a guard or a tackle in New England. The bookend to another athletic prospect, left tackle Prince Tega Wanogho, Driscoll clocked a 5.02-second 40 time (92nd percentile) as well as a 114-inch broad jump (95th) at this year's combine.
The former UMass lineman isn't the biggest — he weighed in under 300 pounds at the Shrine Game this offseason — but he was productive last season, allowing just 10 pressures on 443 pass-blocking snaps in the SEC.
Lloyd Cushenberry, LSU
6-foot-3, 312 pounds
Another center prospect who didn't do much in the way of testing at the combine — his 5.27-second 40 time did little for his stock — but who could still end up in New England nonetheless. Why? The two-year starter for the Tigers has seen a lot of work against some of the most talented defensive fronts in the country. And if there's an interior player who fits what Bill Belichick was looking for in linemen back in the 1990s as head coach of the Browns — "Big guys who are strong and powerful players . . . knock someone off the ball and keep defender on [the line of scrimmage versus the pass]" — it's Cushenberry.
His 2019 might've been a step back production-wise — he still was named a first-team All-SEC player despite his 34 pressures allowed — but in 2018, he allowed just eight total pressures on 480 pass-block snaps. Cushenberry was also one of the leaders for last year's national champion. He was given the No. 18 jersey given to Tigers players who display a selfless attitude. (He wore a No. 18 patch since he couldn't wear those digits as a lineman.)
2020 NFL Draft Highlights: Lloyd Cushenberry
Damien Lewis, LSU
6-foot-2, 327 pounds
Winning 10 of his 13 one-on-one pass-protection reps at the Senior Bowl, and earning the top pass-protection grade in the process from Pro Football Focus, Lewis might end up an even better pro that his teammate Cushenberry. His 5.24-second 40 time, 30-inch vertical and 108-inch broad jump are all eye-opening for someone with his build.
Expected to be a heavy-handed run-blocker at the next level, when you factor in his performance as a pass-protector at the Senior Bowl, the two-year starter could be off the board by the end of Day 2.
Robert Hunt, Louisiana-Lafayette
6-foot-5, 323 pounds
With long arms (34 inches), massive hands (11 inches) and a frame that looks NFL-ready, Hunt enters the league after dominating the Sun Belt Conference. A four-year starter for the Ragin' Cajuns, Hunt split his time between left guard, left tackle and right tackle.
He saw just seven games this past season, but allowed only two total pressures in those contests, per PFF. He didn't test at this year's combine, but his strength, aggressiveness and positional versatility make him an intriguing potential match for the Patriots.
Danny Pinter, Ball State
6-foot-4, 306 pounds
A trip to Mockdraftable.com will yield a player comparison for Pinter that Patriots fans could get behind: Joe Thuney. PFF's Mike Renner also compared Pinter to Thuney in his draft guide. Good company. Pinter's 4.91-second 40 time was very impressive, while his 110-inch broad jump and 29.5-inch vertical were also strong. His Relative Athletic Score checked in behind only Tristan Wirfs, Mekhi Becton and Ezra Cleveland — all of whom are rare specimens at the tackle spot.
Starting his collegiate career as a tight end, he moved to guard and eventually to right tackle. Being so new to his role as a lineman, it's no surprise he probably still needs to get stronger or that his technique could use some refining. But he has athletic traits that can't be taught. He should be available on Day 3 and could be worth a roll of the dice.
Jon Runyan, Michigan
6-foot-4, 306 pounds
Something's in the water in Ann Arbor. Their big guys can scoot. Runyan's 5.08-second 40, his 7.57-second three-cone time and his 4.69-second short-shuttle were all very strong in Indy.
Son of All-Pro lineman Jon Runyan, the younger version won first-team All-Big Ten honors in both 2018 and 2019 as a tackle. Projected to slide inside to guard at the next level, Runyan appears to have the football IQ and the athleticism to have some staying power as a pro.
Tyler Biadasz, Wisconsin
6-foot-4, 314 pounds
Biadasz didn't test at the combine after having shoulder surgery this offseason. Even if he had, it might not have been the most impressive set of numbers we've ever seen.
But Biadasz was a three-year starter for a program that loved to run the football, and he won the Remington Trophy as the best center in the country last year. If he's available on Day 2, the guy who grew up next to his grandfather's farm in Amherst, Wisconsin might be worth calling.
Nick Harris, Washington
6-foot-1, 302 pounds
A starter for more than three years — he started four games as a freshman — at both guard and center, Harris might be a tad undersized to slow down behemoth NFL defensive linemen. Still, he's an athlete and should be able to get wherever he needs to in order to be effective in the NFL. Reach blocks are no problem for him. Leading the charge on screens is something he'll be able to do, too.
His 5.1-second 40 time (86th percentile) and 29.5-inch vertical (76th) show there's some explosiveness to his game. If the Patriots take him, they'll keep their streak alive: 21 consecutive years with a graduate of the Bay Area's Junipero Serra High School on the roster.
Gage Cervenka, Clemson
6-foot-3, 325 pounds
Cervenka shifted from defensive line to offensive line early in his Tigers career, played both center and guard, and might've been one of the strongest players in college football with a personal-record 44 bench reps of 225 pounds to his name.
A four-time state champion wrestler in high school at South Carolina, he seems to fit the "smart, tough and athletic enough" profile Dante Scarnecchia used to refer to when describing what the Patriots want up front.
2020 NFL Draft Highlights: Gage Cervenka
Solomon Kindley, Georgia
6-foot-3, 337 pounds
This would be a little reminiscent of the Tre' Jackson pick back in 2015 for New England. Kindley is massive (as Jackson was, at 6-4 and 330 pounds) and he comes from a system that the Patriots trust (as Jackson did, working under renowned offensive line coach Rick Trickett).
If Kindley ends up a mid-round pick (as Jackson was, taken in the fourth round) and can stay healthy, the two-year starter's power and toughness could make him a worthwhile add.
Hakeem Adeniji, Kansas
6-foot-4, 302 pounds
One of the best athletes on the line in this year's class, his 5.17-second 40, 115-inch broad and whopping 34-inch vertical meet the mark from a Patriots perspective. He was a four-year starter at tackle for the Jayhawks, but the NFL views him as a guard. That's exclusively where he saw his one-on-one pass-protection reps at this year's Senior Bowl. He won 50 percent of his reps there split between left and right guard.
He's probably going to be a later-round player, but he's the type of athlete who might be viewed as a moldable piece of clay for the coaching staff wherever he ends up.